In the days before modern dentistry, people had one choice of material for fillings: metal amalgam. At Softouch Dental Care, we do not offer metal fillings because we feel they pose too much possible risk. Metal amalgam contains about 50% mercury, which is a known poison. In many countries it has been banned.
There is ongoing controversy as to the degree of risk posed by the mercury in tooth fillings, and the jury is still out. But we prefer not to put our patients at any potential risk and instead offer porcelain inlays and onlays or dental bonding as the materials for filling teeth.
Inlays vs. Onlays
An inlay fills a smaller cavity contained within the tooth’s cusps. An onlay is larger, extending over the cusps to an outside surface. An onlay is somewhere between a filling and a tooth crown.
What Is Dental Porcelain?
Dental porcelain is a tooth-colored, hard, brittle substance and it is partly translucent. That is, it both absorbs light and reflects it. Tooth enamel is also partly translucent, and this is what makes porcelain restorations so similar-looking to enamel. They have that same pearly-white shine.
When you have an inlay or onlay, the exact shade of porcelain is chosen to match your natural teeth. The procedure is much the same as having a traditional filling, except that it takes two visits. This is because the filling will be custom-made in a dental lab. In the second visit, Dr. Chung will fit it in place like a perfect little puzzle piece and bond it to your tooth.
By being bonded to your tooth, the inlay or onlay strengthens and prolongs the tooth's life. A metal filling is packed into the cavity and exerts outward pressure against it. This can weaken the tooth and eventually even break it.
Advantages of Dental Porcelain
- It shines white like natural teeth
- It is stain resistant like glass
- It is strong and durable
- Inlays and onlays strengthen the tooth by being bonded to it
- It needs only the same care you would give your teeth
What dental conditions can inlays and onlays treat?
Dental inlays and onlays are similar to fillings. They are made when tooth decay has damaged part of a tooth. While the most common use for inlays and onlays is to repair a tooth that has sustained a fair amount of damage due to a cavity, these restorations are also sometimes recommended when an existing filling needs to be replaced.
Can porcelain inlays or onlays be whitened?
No. Dental porcelain does not whiten with the use of a bleaching agent. The dentist selects the shade of an inlay or onlay to match surrounding enamel. While this may not be an issue for the average inlay, some patients may want to consider whitening their teeth before receiving an onlay. Depending on where the restoration will sit in the mouth, the color of the onlay may be visible over the cusp of a tooth.
Are there any food restrictions after getting dental inlays or onlays?
Patients who receive an inlay or onlay should avoid eating sticky, chewy, crunchy, or hard foods for 24 hours. After that time, one may resume their normal eating habits. The teeth may feel slightly sensitive to hot or cold for a short time. This minor side effect can last up to a few weeks, but should gradually subside over time.
Who is a good candidate for porcelain inlays or onlays?
Patients who have a tooth that is too damaged for optimal repair with a standard dental filling may be good candidates for an inlay or onlay. Conversely, inlays and onlays are limited to moderate tooth repair. A patient must have sufficient tooth structure left after decay is removed to support the restoration. If the tooth is too badly damaged, a crown is a better option for long-term repair.
How long will porcelain inlays or onlays last?
An inlay or onlay can last decades. On the flip side, this restoration may last only 5 to 10 years in some instances. It is difficult to predict how long a given restoration will last because they may wear down or fail for several reasons. Some restorations endure more wear and tear than others due to a patient’s bite or due to habits like grinding the teeth.
One of the biggest factors in the lifespan of a dental inlay or onlay is oral care. Dental restorations tend to last longer when a patient brushes their teeth twice a day and flosses daily, too. People who avoid biting or chewing on hard objects or foods like ice can also see their inlays or onlays last longer.
How long does it take to get inlays or onlays implemented?
It typically takes two appointments to complete the inlay or onlay process. The first appointment may take 60 to 90 minutes. During this visit, the dentist removes the decayed enamel from the tooth. Then, putty material is placed over the tooth to make an impression to send to the dental lab. Finally, the dentist creates a temporary restoration to fit over the tooth while the final restoration is being made. The second appointment is usually scheduled about two weeks after the first, during which the temporary restoration is removed, the tooth is cleaned, and the inlay or onlay is bonded into place. The dentist will check the bite to ensure the restoration is properly shaped and, if needed, will make immediate revisions.
Find out about our tooth-colored restorations by calling 703-319-6990 to schedule an initial consultation at Softouch Dental Care today.