Inlay or Onlay—What’s the Difference?

You may have heard the terms “inlay” and “onlay” and think they are different methods of repairing damaged or decayed teeth. And they are. But they are also different procedures. Both inlays and onlays repair damage to the chewing surface of the back teeth, or molars.

Phoenix DentistBecause they are both repairs to a tooth that has decay, the first step in both inlays and onlays is having the dentist carefully clean the decay so it is completely removed.

According  to the Website Health Guidance, both inlays and onlays, serve to stop cavities from getting worse: “It is important to fill these to cover up exposed nerves, to prevent food from getting stuck, and to prevent further decay.”

“Both inlays an onlays can be made of ceramic, composite resin, or metal,” says Dr. Carol Ford from her Phoenix dental office. “And they can last for decades, depending on the kind of use and abuse they get,” she continues. Both are created for your teeth to provide a comfortable, exact fit. Composite resin is very strong and may be used for people who grind their teeth, to keep teeth from becoming further damaged.

With so many similarities, what is the difference? Inlays are placed on the chewing surface, below the cusps or bumps of the teeth. They are used for small surface cavities.

Onlays are larger. They not only cover the inside chewing surface of the tooth, but they also lap over the cusps of the teeth, covering at least part of the outside (cheek side) and inside (tongue side) of the tooth. In that way, it’s more like a partial crown than a filling. They are held in place with a powerful cement and the fit is carefully checked to make sure the match is perfect. A final polish keeps your tongue from feeling any roughness, and your tooth is decay-free again.

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