What is an Onlay?

Last updated: March 12, 2024

What is an onlay and why would I need one?

An onlay is a type of dental restoration that is used to repair a damaged or decayed tooth. It is also sometimes referred to as a partial crown because it covers a larger portion of the tooth compared to a filling but is smaller than a full dental crown.

Onlays are typically recommended when a tooth has a moderate amount of damage that cannot be effectively repaired with a filling but does not require a full crown. They are custom-made in a dental laboratory to fit the specific shape and size of the prepared tooth. This ensures a precise fit and optimal functionality once placed in the mouth.

There are several reasons why a dentist may recommend an onlay. One common reason is to restore a tooth with a large filling that has deteriorated over time. Onlays can help strengthen the remaining tooth structure and prevent further damage. They are also used to repair teeth with fractures or cracks that compromise their integrity. Additionally, onlays can be a more conservative option compared to crowns because they preserve more of the natural tooth structure while providing similar protection.

The process of getting an onlay typically involves two dental appointments. During the first visit, the dentist will prepare the tooth by removing any decay or existing filling material. An impression of the tooth will then be taken to create a custom onlay. A temporary restoration may be placed to protect the tooth while the final onlay is being fabricated.

At the second visit, the temporary onlay, if used, will be removed, and the final onlay will be carefully cemented onto the tooth. The dentist will ensure that the onlay fits correctly and make any necessary adjustments for comfort and functionality.

After getting an onlay, it is important to maintain good oral hygiene practices, such as brushing and flossing regularly, to keep the restoration and surrounding teeth healthy. Routine dental check-ups are also essential to monitor the onlay and address any issues early on.

Overall, onlays are a versatile and durable option for restoring damaged teeth while preserving as much of the natural tooth structure as possible. Your dentist can evaluate your specific dental needs and determine if an onlay is the right treatment option for you.

How is an onlay different from a filling?

An onlay and a filling are both dental treatments used to repair damaged teeth, but they differ in terms of the extent of damage they address and the materials used.

Filling: A filling is typically used when a small to moderate amount of tooth structure is damaged due to decay or a minor fracture. The procedure involves removing the decayed portion of the tooth and filling the space with a material such as amalgam, composite resin, gold, or porcelain. Fillings are a common and relatively straightforward treatment that can usually be completed in a single dental visit.

Onlay: An onlay, on the other hand, is a more extensive restoration that is used when a larger portion of the tooth is damaged. It covers the cusps (points) of the tooth and can extend over one or more sides of the tooth. Onlays are custom-made in a dental laboratory to ensure a precise fit and optimal function. They are typically made from materials like porcelain, ceramic, or gold, which are strong and durable.

Difference: The main difference between an onlay and a filling lies in how much of the tooth's structure they replace. A filling is placed directly into the cavity created by removing decay, whereas an onlay is fabricated to fit over the damaged area of the tooth. This difference allows an onlay to provide more strength and support to the tooth, making it a preferred choice for larger restorations.

Advantages: Onlays offer several advantages over fillings. They provide better protection for the tooth, as they cover and protect the weakened cusps. Onlays are also more conservative than dental crowns, as they preserve more natural tooth structure while still providing the necessary support. Additionally, onlays are highly durable and resistant to wear, making them a long-lasting solution for restoring damaged teeth.

In summary, the main differences between an onlay and a filling lie in the extent of damage they address and the materials used. While fillings are suitable for small to moderate cavities, onlays are more appropriate for larger areas of damage that require additional support and strength. Your dentist will recommend the most suitable treatment based on the extent of damage to your tooth and your individual needs.

How long does it take to get an onlay?

The process of getting an onlay typically involves two dental appointments. During the first appointment, your dentist will prepare the tooth by removing any decay or damage. They will then take an impression of the tooth to create a custom onlay that fits perfectly.

After the impression is taken, a temporary onlay will be placed to protect the tooth until the final onlay is ready. This temporary onlay is usually made from a resin material and is not as durable as the final onlay.

The impression taken during the first appointment is sent to a dental laboratory where the final onlay is fabricated. This process can take anywhere from one to two weeks, during which time you will wear the temporary onlay.

Once the final onlay is ready, you will have your second appointment. During this visit, the temporary onlay is removed, and the final onlay is carefully placed and bonded to the tooth using special dental cement. Your dentist will ensure that the onlay fits properly and that your bite is comfortable.

The entire process of getting an onlay usually takes around two weeks from the initial preparation to the final placement. However, this timeline can vary depending on the complexity of your case and the efficiency of the dental laboratory.

It is important to follow any post-procedural care instructions provided by your dentist to ensure the longevity of your new onlay. This may include avoiding chewy or sticky foods, practicing good oral hygiene, and attending regular dental check-ups.

Overall, though the process of getting an onlay may require two appointments and a couple of weeks, it is a relatively straightforward procedure that can help restore the strength and functionality of a damaged or decayed tooth.

Will getting an onlay be painful?

Getting an onlay should not be painful. Before the procedure, your dentist will administer a local anesthetic to ensure that the area is completely numb. This means you should not feel any pain during the process. If you feel anxious or nervous about the procedure, you can discuss with your dentist about other sedation options that may be available to help you relax.

During the onlay placement, your dentist will remove any decayed or damaged parts of the tooth and clean the area thoroughly. Once the tooth is prepared, the onlay, which is custom-made to fit your tooth, will be placed and bonded securely in position. While you may feel some pressure or minor discomfort during the procedure, it should not be painful. Your dentist will work carefully to ensure your comfort throughout the process.

After the onlay is placed, you may experience some sensitivity to hot or cold temperatures for a few days. This is normal as your tooth adjusts to the new restoration. If you experience any persistent pain or discomfort that does not subside after a few days, it's essential to contact your dentist to have the onlay checked.

Taking care of your onlay properly after the procedure is crucial to prevent any complications and ensure a comfortable recovery. Your dentist will provide you with instructions on how to care for your onlay, such as avoiding hard or sticky foods, maintaining good oral hygiene practices, and attending regular dental check-ups.

If you have any concerns about pain or discomfort during or after the onlay procedure, don't hesitate to communicate with your dentist. They are trained to ensure your comfort and will address any discomfort promptly. By following your dentist's instructions and attending follow-up appointments, you can help ensure a smooth and pain-free experience with your new onlay. Remember, your dentist is there to help answer any questions or concerns you may have, so feel free to discuss any worries you may have about the procedure.

How should I care for my onlay after the procedure?

After getting an onlay procedure, it is essential to take good care of it to ensure its longevity and maintain your oral health. Here are some guidelines on how to properly care for your onlay:

  1. Maintain good oral hygiene: Brush your teeth at least twice a day and floss once daily. Use a soft-bristled toothbrush and non-abrasive toothpaste to avoid damaging the onlay or surrounding teeth. Proper oral hygiene will help prevent bacterial buildup that can lead to decay around the onlay.

  2. Be mindful of your diet: Avoid hard, sticky, or chewy foods that can potentially damage the onlay or cause it to come loose. Opt for a balanced diet rich in fruits, vegetables, and lean proteins to support overall oral health.

  3. Attend regular dental check-ups: Schedule routine dental exams and cleanings to ensure the onlay is in good condition and there are no signs of complications. Your dentist will monitor the onlay and the surrounding teeth to address any issues promptly.

  4. Avoid habits that can damage the onlay: Refrain from habits like nail-biting, chewing on hard objects, or grinding your teeth as they can put excessive pressure on the onlay and compromise its integrity.

  5. Use a mouthguard: If you engage in sports or have a habit of grinding your teeth at night, consider wearing a custom-fit mouthguard to protect the onlay from potential damage.

  6. Address any discomfort or sensitivity: It is normal to experience some sensitivity after getting an onlay, especially to hot or cold temperatures. However, if the sensitivity persists or if you notice any pain or discomfort while chewing, contact your dentist for a follow-up appointment.

  7. Avoid smoking: Smoking can have detrimental effects on oral health and can compromise the longevity of dental restorations like onlays. If you smoke, consider quitting to maintain the health of your onlay and overall oral health.

By following these guidelines and maintaining regular communication with your dentist, you can ensure that your onlay remains in excellent condition and continues to protect your tooth effectively. Remember that proper care and maintenance are key to the longevity and success of any dental restoration, including onlays.

Are onlays covered by dental insurance?

Dental insurance coverage can often be a source of confusion for patients when it comes to specific procedures like onlays. The coverage for onlays can vary depending on your dental insurance plan and provider.

Onlays are considered a restorative dental procedure that is more extensive than a filling but less invasive than a dental crown. They are used to repair teeth that have mild to moderate decay or damage, offering a more conservative approach compared to crowns that cover the entire tooth.

When it comes to dental insurance coverage for onlays, it's important to understand that insurance plans typically have different levels of coverage for different types of procedures. Some insurance plans may cover onlays under basic restorative care, while others may categorize them under major restorative care.

To determine if your dental insurance covers onlays, it's recommended to reach out to your insurance provider or examine your insurance policy documents. Your dental office can also help you understand your coverage and provide information on how much of the cost of an onlay procedure may be covered by your insurance.

In some cases, insurance companies may cover a percentage of the cost of the onlay, while in other cases, they may cover a specific dollar amount. It's essential to know what your out-of-pocket expenses may be before proceeding with the treatment to avoid any unexpected costs.

If your dental insurance does not fully cover the cost of an onlay, you may have options to explore. Some dental offices offer payment plans or financing options to help patients manage the cost of their dental procedures. Additionally, you can discuss alternative treatment options with your dentist to find a solution that fits your budget and dental needs.

It's crucial to stay informed about your dental insurance coverage for onlays and to communicate openly with your dental provider about any questions or concerns you may have. By being proactive and knowledgeable about your insurance coverage, you can make informed decisions about your dental care and ensure you receive the treatment you need while understanding the financial aspects involved.

How long can an onlay last?

Onlays are dental restorations that are used to repair a damaged or decayed tooth. They are designed to cover a larger portion of the tooth compared to fillings, providing more strength and support to the tooth structure. The longevity of an onlay can vary depending on several factors.

One of the primary factors that determine the lifespan of an onlay is the material used. Onlays can be made from materials such as porcelain, gold, or composite resin. Gold onlays are known for their durability and longevity, often lasting for decades. Porcelain onlays, while aesthetically pleasing, may not be as strong as gold but can still last for many years with proper care. Composite resin onlays are a more affordable option but may not last as long as gold or porcelain.

Another factor that can influence the lifespan of an onlay is how well it is cared for. Proper oral hygiene practices, including regular brushing, flossing, and routine dental check-ups, are essential to maintain the health and longevity of an onlay. Avoiding habits such as teeth grinding or biting on hard objects can also help prevent damage to the onlay.

The location of the onlay within the mouth can also impact its lifespan. Onlays that are placed on teeth towards the back of the mouth, such as molars, may experience more wear and tear due to the forces of chewing and biting. As a result, these onlays may not last as long as those placed on front teeth.

It is important to keep in mind that onlays, like any dental restoration, are not indestructible and may need to be replaced at some point. Regular dental check-ups can help your dentist monitor the condition of your onlay and determine if any maintenance or replacement is necessary.

In conclusion, the longevity of an onlay can vary depending on factors such as the material used, oral hygiene practices, habits, and the location of the onlay in the mouth. With proper care and maintenance, an onlay can last for many years, providing support and protection to a damaged tooth.

Are there any risks or complications associated with getting an onlay?

There are few risks and complications associated with getting an onlay procedure, but like any dental treatment, it's essential to be informed about what to expect. An onlay is a type of dental restoration that covers the cusp of the tooth or a significant portion of the chewing surface. It is often recommended when a tooth is too damaged for a filling to repair but not damaged enough to require a dental crown.

One of the potential risks associated with getting an onlay is tooth sensitivity. After the procedure, you may experience some sensitivity to hot or cold temperatures, especially in the days immediately following the placement of the onlay. This sensitivity is usually temporary and should subside as your tooth adjusts to the new restoration.

In rare cases, there may be complications such as the onlay becoming loose or dislodged. This can happen if the onlay is not properly fitted or if there are issues with the bonding material. If you experience any problems with your onlay, such as pain when biting down or if it feels loose, it's essential to contact your dentist immediately for an evaluation.

Another potential complication with onlays is the risk of decay developing underneath the restoration. While onlays are designed to protect and strengthen the tooth, bacteria can still penetrate the margins where the onlay meets the tooth, leading to decay. This is why maintaining good oral hygiene practices, such as regular brushing, flossing, and dental check-ups, is crucial to prevent decay and ensure the longevity of your onlay.

It's important to remember that these risks and complications are relatively rare, and most patients experience successful outcomes with onlay procedures. Your dentist will take precautions to minimize these risks, such as ensuring a proper fit and using high-quality materials for the onlay.

If you have any concerns about getting an onlay or are experiencing any issues after the procedure, don't hesitate to reach out to your dental office. They are there to help address any questions or problems you may have, and early intervention can often prevent further complications. Remember to follow your dentist's post-procedure care instructions to promote healing and protect your onlay for years to come.

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