Inlays and onlays restore a damaged tooth to its normal function and appearance. These treatment options are very similar to a dental filling (and are often confused with the term), with the main difference lies in how the restoration is placed on the affected tooth. The dental filling material is placed into the cavity in a single dental visit, while inlays and onlays are solid pieces that are created in the laboratory.
Inlays and onlays are used when a tooth’s damaged portion is too large for a dental filling to resolve. Onlays and inlays can be used for repairing large areas of front teeth, but they are also suitable for restoring decayed parts of back teeth. These two treatment options also differ in the way they are placed on the damaged portions of a tooth. Aside from aesthetic and functional improvement, inlays and onlays can also strengthen the treated tooth.
Inlays are used to fill in the cavity in between the tooth cusps – which are the elevated or pointed parts of the tooth. They are used when the cavity cannot be solved by dental fillings because the damaged portion is too large.
Onlays are used for even larger cavities left by decay. An onlay covers a cusp of the tooth and can extend to the space between the cusps. It restores the normal appearance and healthy function of the tooth but is not as invasive as a dental crown treatment, which requires the removal of more healthy tooth tissue.
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