What Is the Difference between Fillings, Inlays and Onlays
All three aim at filling gaps and holes in, on, or between your teeth. And all are used to restore their strength and functionality.
But that’s how far the similarities go. It’s certainly not a case of “one size fits all”. There’s two big difference, and that is in the type and size of dental problem they can handle, and how effective they are in getting their job done.
Fillings: Very few of us don’t have at least one filling. It’s probably the first thing we associate with visiting the dentist. And if a cavity in our tooth starts sending lightning strikes of pain through our tooth when we chew or bite into our food, we can’t get to the dentist fast enough.
As long as the cavity isn’t too large, a standard filling is probably the best, quickest and easiest way to fill it. It will take just one visit, and once it is done, you probably won’t even notice that it’s there if your dentist used a resin-based composite. This composite of glass and plastic provides a natural-looking solution. Not only is it colored to match your teeth, but it can be molded to fit in well with the tooth’s structure.
Inlays and Onlays: If your tooth is more severely damaged, or in a place which is hard to treat, inlays and onlays are the best option. As their names suggest, inlays are used for repair work in the hollower section of the chewing surface between the sharper cusps. Onlays deal with larger and wider areas, often covering the entire top surface (and spilling over if necessary) when used to repair damaged cusps.
Made of gold, porcelain or resin composites, onlays and inlays are considerably stronger than ordinary fillings. They fit better and are more effective in sealing the tooth against bacteria. They also last longer, are easier to clean, and less likely to stain than standard fillings. And, unlike the crowns used to repair more serious damage to the biting surface and cusps, onlays and inlays have less impact on the healthy part of the tooth during preparation for fitting.
When it comes to aesthetics, gold onlays, the strongest and most likely to last even longer, are usually used on back teeth, while porcelain is chosen for those teeth that are visible when you smile.
Fitting Inlays and Onlays
Fitting inlays and onlays is not handled in one visit like a standard filling as they are not made while you wait like standard fillings. An impression of your tooth is instead sent to a remote laboratory, where the permanent solution is made. While awaiting delivery of the finished item, you may need a temporary filling. This will be removed during a later dental visit, once the completed inlay or onlay is ready for bonding and fitting.
When you need work done on your teeth, ask your dentist for advice on the best option for you, taking into account the effectiveness and longevity of each option as well as the aesthetics.