Fillings, Crowns, Inlays, and Onlays — Dental Techniques Explained

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As professionals, our local dentists are well aware of the concerns many of us have about getting our teeth worked on. However, as they see dozens of patients in a week, some dentists occasionally forget that we haven’t all studied dentistry in college, and we might not always think to ask the questions we need to.

While there’s no substitute for the experience your dentist has, we can help you better understand some of the more common procedures you may hear about.

Dental Fillings

Fillings are common practices used to repair rotting or damaged teeth structure to help shore up their original function. This is done when the dentist removes the decayed and ruined tooth materials and cleans away all area affected by this decay. The cavity is then filled with a filling material.

This helps cover gaps in the enamel and prevent tooth decay and further damage to the inner parts. Various types of materials can be used for dental fillings. They remain one of the most common techniques for repairing and restoring damaged teeth.

Some consider gold fillings to be the best, but while they are certainly flashy they are also often expensive and can require multiple operations to set properly. However, once set in they can last for up to twenty years and do not easily corrode. Silver fillings (actually a substance called ‘amalgam,’ which is a mercury, silver, tin, copper or zinc alloy) are less expensive but are quite obvious. As such, they are more common in the back of the mouth.

Composite, or plastic fillings, match the same color as teeth and tend to be used where a natural appearance is preferred. However, they can chip and wear over time and can become stained from coffee or tobacco. An average age for them to be replaced is between five and seven years.

Dental Crowns

Dental crowns are basically caps placed over sensitive areas on the tooth. They are used to restore and cover a tooth, in order to bring it back to its original size, shape, strength and overall appearance.

Crowns need to be cemented in place. They are used to completely cover a tooth’s visible portion, or any part of it that lies above a gum line. As such they tend to be reserved for teeth that need to be completely and efficiently covered. These can include badly decayed teeth, or to support large fillings or dental bridges. They can also simply cover badly discolored or misshapen teeth.

There are many, many types of dental crowns. The most common would be stainless steel, which is prefabricated and typically used to provide temporary protection while another crown is being made from a different, less noticeable material. They are cheap, efficient but not considered permanent. If something more permanent is required, typically a dental implant will be used instead.

The most common way of replacing these crowns is to use prefabricated ceramic crowns. These are strong and match the color of your teeth but, similar to plastic fillings, can become discolored.

Dental Inlays and Onlays

A dental inlay or onlay refers to a very similar type of technique done on rear teeth that suffer from mild to medium decay, as well as otherwise cracked teeth that are not suitable for a crown.

To put it another way, too much damage has been done for a filling to be suitable but not enough for a crown to be needed.

They are highly resistant, improving the strength of teeth by up to 75% and lasing up to 30 years. An inlay refers to a technique similar to a filling where the hard, pre-fabricated ‘inlay’ fills inside the ‘cusp tips’ (top edges) of a tooth. Meanwhile, an onlay is more similar to a crown and goes over the edges of the tooth.

It typically takes two appointments for inlays and onlays to be properly bonded. They are done using similar procedures, which is why they are often grouped together. The filling is removed, and any damaged material in the tooth is removed. A mold is taken of the teeth, and this is then sent to a laboratory where an inlay or onlay is made using porcelain, gold or resin. This is then bonded using a strong resin adhesive to the required place. It is then polished, and the procedure is completed.

Both procedures will need about an hour, and they take place not long after one another.

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