If a patient has a severely damaged or decayed tooth, then dental inlays and onlays are a good “middle ground” alternative for patients who would like to keep their tooth structure intact and even visible. If your dentist determines that a full crown isn’t necessary, but the damage is too great for a simple filling, then you are left with another set of options: dental inlays and dental onlays. But what is really the difference?
A dental inlay can be used for damage that is a bit too much for a regular filling, but it acts much like a filling in that it is placed to fill the damaged area. The difference is that it not only fills the damaged area, but it also comes up to fill as much as the area between the cusps of your tooth. The cusps are the raised areas on the outside of your back teeth that have a small indent in the middle.
Dental inlays can preserve your tooth for a very long time, and you can use a material that is the same color as your teeth providing you with a more natural look.
Onlays function much like inlays but are different in that instead of acting as a more encompassing filling, they are more like a partial crown, and are many times referred to as such. It usually works best if the top of your tooth is removed and it can be fit over the top. It can be used to even cover one or more of the cusps of your tooth depending on your own unique situation. This allows you to keep the natural chewing area of your teeth to a degree if possible.
Onlays can cover a large area of your tooth but still provide a better option than a crown for people who want to preserve the surface area of the healthy tooth.