Over time, the surfaces of teeth can become damaged, which can weaken teeth and allow decay to take hold. To minimize damage and keep teeth healthy and strong, your dentist may recommend an inlay or an onlay to restore the tooth’s surface.
Sometimes called partial crowns, both inlays and onlays cover portions of the surface of the tooth while a full crown surrounds the entire visible portion of the tooth. In general, inlays cover a smaller portion of the tooth – usually just one or two “cusps” or bumps on the surface of the tooth – while onlays are usually used when the tooth has more damage but is still not damaged enough to require a complete crown. Both inlays and onlays are applied over the base of the tooth to protect damaged areas from becoming more damaged, to strengthen the tooth and to restore the tooth’s natural appearance.
First, your dentist will remove any existing decay from the tooth to be treated. Next, your dentist or hygienist will usually make an impression, or mold, of the tooth, which a dental technician will use to craft an inlay or onlay that will fit the precise shape of the tooth. A temporary inlay or onlay may be placed on the tooth while the permanent one is being made. Once the inlay or onlay is ready to be applied, your tooth will be thoroughly cleaned and dried and the inlay or onlay will be affixed to the tooth’s surface using a strong dental adhesive.
Thanks to today’s more natural-looking dental materials, your new inlay or onlay will look as “normal” as your own teeth, and no one but you will know the repair has been made. It’s just one more way your dentist can help keep you looking good and feeling confident.