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What is the Difference Between Inlays and Onlays?

Inlays and onlays have been used for centuries to decorate teeth. In fact, many people think of these materials as having “cavity” with them. In dentistry, inlays and onlays aren’t just a type of direct restoration, meaning they’re placed directly into the jawbone as a single, complete piece that fits precisely into the specific size and contour of the original cavity. Instead, inlays and onlays work more like a layer over a tooth, masking worn areas and adding depth, shape, or style.

There are several types of tooth-inlay, but the simplest is the Inlays and Onlays that dentists put in around fillings. These are basically just metal strips or fixtures that are placed directly onto a tooth. A metal base holds the Inlays in place, which may be coated with a bonding agent to help seal and protect the Inlays from chipping. Some Inlays have a removable backing, which makes them easier to remove than others. And some Inlays even look like natural teeth.

These types of dental restorations have become much more popular over the last decade or so. Patients are now turning to Inlays and Onlays for more cosmetic dental restorations. The reason for this is that Inlays and Onlays can mimic the look of natural teeth for patients who have weak teeth, receding gums, chipped teeth, and other issues. They can even replace teeth where they have been worn down to the point that the replacement needs to be inserted. Patients now have a permanent solution that helps restore their smile to a much more normal and youthful state.

So, how exactly do Inlays and Onlays work? How are Inlays and Onlays different from traditional tooth preparations? And, what are the differences between these and other indirect restorations? Patients typically have a general idea of how their tooth preparation and placement go. But, with Inlays and Onlays, the process gets a little extra-scientific, as the dentist has to go over the tooth preparation with the patient again.

The reason for this is Inlays and Onlays are actually much more complicated than just placing the Inlay over the existing tooth structure. The base material, which is typically either metal or ceramic, is actually part of a complex arrangement that captures the tooth structure and directs it through the canal and into the mold. Then, another thin layer of material on top of the base crown forms the Inlay. There are generally two layers to Inlays, with each layer designed to work together to strengthen the tooth structure, as well as create a protective, slip-resistant surface that protects the Inlay itself from wear and abrasion.

The science behind Inlays and Onlays is relatively straightforward – Inlays create a barrier between the base material and the tooth surface, creating a strong, stable Inlay. The second layer of material, called the crown, works to protect and reinforce the Inlay, holding it in place. The combination of Inlays and Onlays is an extremely dense combination, consisting of nearly 2 billion individual porcelain layers – meaning that the teeth will last longer with the use of Inlays, Onlays, or both. For this reason, many patients prefer to use Inlays over traditional tooth fillings.

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