Porcelain Inlays and Onlays Questions

Serving Northern Virginia including Oakton, Fairfax, Reston, Alexandria, Arlington and Surrounding Areas

What are inlays and onlays?

They are porcelain fillings. Instead of using either the old metal amalgam, or the more recently popular white composite, porcelain is used to fill cavities. Since porcelain is a hard substance and must be crafted in a dental laboratory using a special mill, inlays and onlays require two visits. Northern Virginia cosmetic dentist Dr. Chung would first clear away the decay and bacterial debris, and give you a temporary filling. In the second visit (after two weeks or so), when the inlay or onlay has arrived from the lab, he would fit it into the cavity, tweak and fine-tune it, and then smooth it to a pearly-white finish.

How are inlays and onlays different?

Northern Virginia porcelain inlays and onlays differ in size. An inlay is smaller, filling a cavity that is confined to the area inside the tooth’s cusps (the small bumps on top of each tooth). An onlay is larger, extending over one or more cusps on to an outside tooth surface. In other respects they are the same.

What advantages do inlays and onlays offer?

They offer several good benefits:

  1. They’re made of dental porcelain rather than metal. This means they match your natural tooth color and cannot be distinguished as fillings. They look like part of the tooth.
  2. They are bonded to the tooth. In other words, they are structurally united with the tooth by means of a light-cured dental cement. This again makes them part of the tooth, not a separate entity packed into the tooth, like the old metal fillings.
  3. Being bonded to the tooth, they strengthen it. They apply an inward force, pulling on the tooth’s periphery, holding the tooth together. In contrast, metal fillings apply an outward force, pushing against the tooth’s periphery, and thus weakening the tooth.
  4. They are hard and durable. With good daily care, they will prolong the tooth’s life indefinitely.

Are there any disadvantages to inlays and onlays?

No, unless you feel that two visits instead of just one is a disadvantage. They are what is known as indirect fillings, meaning that Dr. Chung does not apply the porcelain directly to your teeth as he does with white composite, or as other dentists do with metal amalgam. Instead he has them made to his specifications at a lab. The lab takes a week or two to get the finished inlay or onlay back to Dr. Chung, so you need to come in for a second visit. He’ll then seat the inlay or onlay and permanently bond it to the tooth.

How is an onlay different from a crown?

It’s smaller than a porcelain crown and does not enclose the entire tooth. There is a continuum, from slight decay to moderate to severe decay.

  1. Inlays are for small cavities.
  2. Onlays are used when the tooth is moderately decayed but still has enough viable tissue to hold a filling.
  3. Crowns are used when the tooth no longer has that viable tissue, and must be given an entire new outside surface. Only a stub remains of the original tooth, and the crown is permanently attached over the top of that stub.
  4. When decay has affected not just the tooth, but its root as well, then a crown must be combined with endodontic therapy – a “root canal”, to strengthen the root.
  5. When a tooth and its root are both so damaged that they must be extracted, then a dental implant can be done to provide a new root. A new porcelain tooth is attached to the top of the implant.

Please call or email Softouch Dental Care to arrange for your consultation. You can bring all of your cosmetic dentistry questions and we will be happy to answer them and give you a tour of our friendly dentistry facility.

We serve Oakton, Vienna, McLean, Great Falls, Tysons Corner, Reston, Arlington, Herndon, Fairfax, Falls Church, Chantilly, Centreville, Washington D.C. and the Northern Virginia area.

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