When a tooth is too damaged to support a tooth filling but not damaged enough for a dental crown, you end up somewhere in the middle. Capping a damaged tooth unnecessarily with a dental crown removes more tooth structure than needed. But a large dental filling can weaken the remaining structure of the tooth, causing the tooth to break, crack or eventually need a root canal. Inlays and onlays are often referred to as partial crowns. They use the existing tooth as a base and fit the inlay or onlay onto the tooth. This is done to strengthen the tooth, restore its shape, and prevent further damage. An inlay is done when there is no damage to the cusps of the tooth and the inlay can be placed right on the tooth. An onlay is used when the damage is a little more extensive.
The decayed area of the tooth is first removed during the procedure. A mold of the tooth is then taken and sent to a dental lab. They create a restoration made from porcelain, gold, or a composite resin. The restoration takes about 2-3 weeks to make, so a temporary inlay or onlay will be placed on the tooth for that time. During your next visit the inlay or onlay will be placed into your tooth and set with cement. Your tooth will look natural and you or anyone else won't be able to tell the difference.