What Is An Onlay?

An onlay is a restoration for a moderately broken or decayed tooth that requires something more than a filling but doesn’t yet need a crown. Think of an onlay as something between a filling and a crown – it is made out of strong porcelain like a crown, but only covers a section of the tooth like a filling.  We think that a good way to visualize what an onlay looks like is to think of a porcelain puzzle piece that is bonded to whichever part of a tooth that needs to be replacing. When an onlay is done, the healthy tooth structure is preserved and only the unhealthy tooth is replaced. Modern onlays are typically made from porcelain, but can also be made of gold or a high strength resin material. 

Why would a tooth require an onlay?

Onlays are ideal for back teeth, such as the molars, when one or more of the four peaks—called cusps—of the tooth fractures off while the others are still in excellent shape. An onlay is a conservative option compared to a full coverage crown that would require removing all the remaining cusps and enamel from the tooth. It is also much stronger than placing a direct filling in the area that fractured and is expected to last much longer than a filling.

inlay-and-onlayWhat are the benefits of an onlay?

  • Preservation of healthy tooth structure
  • Made from highly esthetic porcelain, which blends very well with the surrounding teeth
  • Strong and long-lasting
  • More conservative restoration than a crown
  • Stronger than fillings, especially when an entire cusp or large section of the tooth is missing

What are the disadvantages of an onlay?

The main disadvantage of onlays comes not so much from clinical reasons, but more from a lack of coverage from some dental insurance plans. Many dental plans will not cover onlay services or cover them at a reduced percentage than crowns or fillings. Another minor disadvantage compared with crowns, for example, is that onlays are more technique sensitive both in making a temporary onlay while the final restoration is made. They are also a bit more technique sensitive at the final bonding step, as onlay bonding requires a completely isolated and dry environment. Rest assured that our doctors and staff are well trained to provide this valuable service for our patients.

How is an onlay made?

Because onlays are made from porcelain similar to crowns, the steps to restore a tooth with an onlay are similar to those to make a crown. After shaping the tooth, an impression is taken and sent to a dental lab. The lab makes the onlay out of a durable and esthetic porcelain material. Once the onlay is fabricated and ready, the patient is brought back to the office to bond it in place. A temporary onlay is used in the interim period to keep the tooth protected and comfortable.

How do I know if an onlay is right for me?

Dr. Jason Doublestein, Dr. Michael Wierenga, and Dr. Katelyn Trierweiler along with our dedicated staff here at 44 West Dental Professionals are happy to discuss if an onlay is the best treatment option for you. Give us a call at (616) 530-2200 to set up a consultation today!

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