Most dental patients are familiar with dental fillings. Chances are good that you have at least one yourself or that you know somebody who does. However, some tooth damage, like a very deep or wide cavity or a crack or break, is too extensive for fillings to be an effective solution. When you have that type of damage, your dentist may recommend a dental crown, an onlay, or an inlay. Take a look at the differences between these different types of dental treatments so that you'll know which one is right for you.
Dental crowns can be used to repair a decayed or broken tooth or to fix a hairline crack. They can also serve a cosmetic purpose. If you have a tooth that's very stained, discolored, or uneven, a crown will cover the flaws, giving a white, straight tooth that better matches the rest of your teeth. Crowns cover the entire surface of the tooth above the root, so your natural tooth may need to be altered before the crown can be installed over it. Usually, this involves filing down the surface of the tooth to make it smaller. However, if your tooth is broken or severely decayed, your dentist may need to add filling material to make the tooth large enough to support the crown. Placing a crown usually takes two appointments. Your dentist will file or fill the tooth, make a mold of it, and send the mold to a laboratory to have the crown made. Once the crown is made, you'll return to have it placed over your tooth.
Sometimes a crown is the only choice. For example, crowns are used when the tooth structure is so compromised that it is not possible to use any other tooth-repair option. In some cases, crowns are preferable as a preventative measure. If you're especially prone to tooth decay, for instance, you might opt for a crown even if another tooth-repair option would work because the odds are that the tooth would eventually decay and need further repairs. If you suffer from bruxism (nighttime tooth grinding) a crown might also be a good choice to prevent repeated tooth repairs. And of course, you may opt for a crown for cosmetic reasons. However, it's worth keeping in mind that your crown may need to be replaced periodically. Crowns can chip, fall out, or develop decay underneath them. A crown should last for at least 7 years and can last as long as 40.
Onlays and Inlays
When possible, most dentists prefer to preserve as much of the natural tooth structure as possible. When you have too much damage for a simple filling but not enough for a crown to be appropriate, your dentist may suggest an onlay or an inlay. These options repair the damage while leaving most of the tooth in place. Onlays and inlays are not too different from each other; the difference between them is that onlays extend over the edges of the tooth, covering the whole biting surface, while inlays sit inside the edges of the tooth.
Onlays and inlays are made of porcelain, gold, or composite resin. Like crowns, onlays and inlays are made in a laboratory from a mold, so you'll need two appointments to have one placed. This is one way that onlays and inlays differ from fillings, which are made in the dentist's office. The biggest benefit of onlays and inlays over crowns is that they preserve and actually strengthen the natural tooth structure. In fact, they can strengthen the tooth by as much as 75 percent, as opposed to fillings or crowns, both of which weaken the natural tooth. Onlays and inlays also last as long as 30 years.
Choosing between crowns and onlays and inlays depends largely on the extent of the damage you have and the result you're looking for. Do you need to improve the appearance of the tooth or prevent repeat repairs, or do you prefer to repair and strengthen the existing tooth? Make sure to discuss the pros and cons of all of your tooth-repair options with a dentist, such as one at Pittsburgh Dental Spa.