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Dental Onlays and Inlays- Good Dental Filling Alternatives?

Dental filling detectives

Dental filling detectives

I’m Dr. Scott Williams and I practice family and cosmetic dentistry in Greeley as well as serving the Eaton, Evans, Windsor, and Kersey CO areas. Dental filling alternatives are becoming more and more common, thanks in large part to our evolving understanding and increased awareness of the many concerns attendant to dental fillings. Fillings are fashioned from a variety of different materials, each with its own unique characteristic deficiencies. The traditional substance for crafting fillings is metal (or amalgam), typically either silver or gold, and has been employed since the practice itself originated. Though quite durable, metal fillings create obvious aesthetic discrepancies since they don’t match the color of natural teeth and can cause discoloration of the surrounding tooth structure.

Because their presence is so obvious and easy to detect, their utility is somewhat limited to portions of affected teeth that aren’t on constant display (e.g. back molars). And, although rare, it’s possible that patients will have an allergic reaction to the mercury found in amalgam fillings. The other chief material used in dental fillings is composite resin. While it more readily matches the hue of a natural tooth, the aesthetic benefit comes at a cost; the composite resin fillings can be less durable than the amalgam variety and are more expensive.

The increasing prominence of dental filling alternatives goes hand in hand with the evolution of dentistry as a whole. Dental procedures are tethered to the specific needs of the individual patient, and fully customized treatment plans are the modern industry norm. The existence of teeth filling alternatives implicitly recognizes a single practical reality: every mouth is different. Damage and decay are measured in degrees, and the location and severity of the problem can have a profound effect on the viability of dental fillings as a treatment option.

Dental Filling Alternatives: Indirect Fillings to the Rescue

superhero tooth filling alternatives

superhero tooth filling alternatives

Oftentimes, a tooth may be too damaged to support a filling and yet sufficiently intact to avoid a dental crown. In such a circumstance, filling the tooth risks weakening it further and leaving it susceptible to fracture, while applying a crown entails removing more tooth structure than truly necessary. When the nature and degree of damage demand a less conventional solution, dental filling alternatives may prove the optimal dental restoration.

When a certain tooth falls within the aforementioned intermediate range (i.e. too damaged for a conventional filling but not damaged enough to warrant a crown), indirect fillings may be the perfect dental filling alternative to employ. Unlike traditional fillings, indirect fillings are made in a dental laboratory rather than a dentist’s office, and thus require two visits in order to be properly fitted and placed. During the first visit, the dentist removes any old fillings and recent decay from the affected tooth and makes an impression of the remaining intact tooth material (along with the nearby teeth). The impression is sent to a dental laboratory where a technician fabricates the filling itself, consistent with the impression provided by the dentist.

At the second visit, the dentist places the indirect filling on the damaged tooth, ensures that it fits snugly and does not otherwise interfere with the patient’s bite, and uses a permanent cement to bond the filling to the tooth structure.

Dental Onlays and Inlays

There are two types of indirect fillings: onlays and inlays. Of the pair, dental onlays are the more substantive restorations. Dental onlays cover one or more of the tooth’s cusps, and if necessary, they may even cover the entire chewing and biting surface of the tooth. The cusps of a tooth are the rounded edges near the center of each tooth that take the brunt of the wear and tear from daily use. Onlays are generally more durable than dental fillings and tend to last significantly longer. Furthermore, they can actually protect the weaker areas of the damaged tooth, leaving the finished product less vulnerable to cracks or fractures in the future.

In many respects, dental inlays are much like onlays. The chief difference between the two dental filling alternatives is the scope of the restorative procedure; while onlays often cover the entire biting surface, inlays are less extensive and generally cover a far smaller proportion of the affected tooth. Rather than covering the cusps themselves, inlays fill the spaces between the individual cusps. Thus, when an inlay is applied, the material is bonded within the center of the tooth and doesn’t fully cover the cusps or biting surface. Despite the less expansive nature of the procedure, dental inlays provide the same superior, tailored fit of onlays, and similarly protect the tooth from further damage or decay.

As a practice, dentistry has enjoyed unprecedented technological progress and innovation over the past several Dental chairdecades. The profession has evolved to meet the diverse and highly specific needs of individual patients, whose oral health issues aren’t always adequately addressed by a single approach or procedure. At Ascent Family Dental, we realize and acknowledge that every patient is different, and we offer fully customized treatment options designed to best meet our patients’ needs. Consistent with that overall mentality, Dr. Williams offers dental filling alternatives in order to accommodate those patients who may be prime candidates for the procedures. Dental filling alternatives may be the optimal choice for you; call Dr. Williams today to schedule an appointment so you can understand and evaluate all of your potential treatment options.

Contact our Greeley CO dental office below:


Ascent Family Dental
3535 W. 12th St., Ste B
Greeley, CO 80634
(970) 351-6095


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