Dental Inlays and Onlays vs. Full Coverage Crowns

houston orthodontic specialists

You’ve got a broken tooth or a cavity. You know it because you can feel the area with your tongue. It’s rough along the surface and may even be tender to the touch. It’s time to call your dentist in Houston and you have a feeling that the treatment is going to involve more than just a filling.

Did you know you have more options than just going ahead and getting a traditional full coverage crown? At Greenspoint Dental in Houston, we offer a full line of custom crafted inlays and onlays, as well as crowns to fit your needs.

But what’s the difference between crowns, inlays, and onlays…and how do you choose one over the other?


Inlays and Onlays

Inlays and onlays are often referred to as “lab made fillings” or “three-quarter crowns” due to their design. Essentially, they look like a partial dental crown that leaves a portion (about 1/3 to 1/4) of your natural tooth still exposed…hence the reference to three-quarters.

To describe why an inlay or onlay would be needed, it’s important to understand why a filling wouldn’t. Fillings are meant to fill in, patch up, or rebuild smaller areas of decay in a tooth. If that broken or eroded area is too large, it would simply break off or fall out over a period of time due to the structural design.

Enter the inlays and onlays. When you still have a fair amount of healthy tooth structure and a crown would be a bit too excessive, a three-quarter restoration is just right.


So, what’s the difference between inlays and onlays? Are they not the same thing?

Inlays go inside of a tooth when a large part has been hollowed out. An onlay goes over areas such as cusps (the “points” of your teeth) to rebuild the structure while also repairing any damage. As with a crown, both inlays and onlays can be made of porcelain, zirconia, gold, etc.

The biggest benefit of opting for an inlay or onlay as opposed to going ahead and getting a crown is that you’re able to preserve as much natural tooth structure as possible. Three-quarter crowns are less invasive procedures, allow you to compliment the remaining healthy enamel.


Conventional Dental Crowns

Let’s say your fracture or area of decay has impacted the majority of your tooth. If you put a three-quarter crown on it, there still isn’t enough healthy enamel to support ongoing biting and chewing forces. At first, it might seem fine, but after a while, your tooth could split in two, entirely.

For situations such as these, it’s best to protect the remaining integrity of your tooth by encasing it with a full crown. This “cap” covers the surface of your tooth that is visible above the gumlines. As such, they can distribute the daily pressure of chewing and biting across the entire surface; you don’t have to worry about a small portion of the enamel succumbing to overuse and breaking off.

Crowns are also recommended when you’ve had a root canal because the tooth is no longer alive. Endodontically treated teeth tend to be more brittle as there is no active blood supply. Crowns and root canals go hand in hand because the cap helps to protect the investment you’ve made in saving your tooth. An inlay or onlay would not be appropriate in most of these situations, because the exposed enamel could dry out and start to chip away, furthering the damage.


Similar Treatment Appointments

What should you expect as far as treatment when it comes to inlays, onlays, and crowns? Just about the same thing between all three. The process generally requires about two appointments a week to two weeks apart from one another.

After your initial exam, x-ray and treatment plan, you’ll book the first treatment appointment. This first visit takes about an hour to complete. Our Houston dentist will numb the tooth and reshape it so as to remove the compromised or decaying structure. Once it’s properly prepped, an impression will be made to plan out the perfect fit. We send the mold of your bite to our lab, where the final restoration is made by hand.

In the meantime, a temporary crown or filling will be placed in your tooth so that you can avoid any unwanted sensitivity or embarrassment.

About two weeks later, your final restoration will be ready for delivery. This 2nd visit will be far quicker than the first. We’ll remove the temporary restoration, try your permanent inlay, onlay, or crown in place and then cement or bond it to your tooth. After it’s set, we’ll check the fit again and make any necessary adjustments.


Which Costs More? Crowns or Three-Quarter Crowns?

Are inlays and onlays cheaper than dental crowns? Only slightly. The biggest benefit of inlays/onlays over crowns is that you’re able to preserve more of your real tooth structure.

However, both treatments require similar steps to prepare, along with lab work. The materials used in inlays and onlays may be less than a crown, but the time involved (labor) and lab fees are not significantly different.


Why do Broken Teeth Need to be Fixed?

Even if you feel a sharp area on your tooth or have problems with food getting caught in a decayed area after meals, the tooth may not hurt at all. You may even be asking yourself, “Why do I need to fix a problem that doesn’t seem to be causing me any problems?”

The truth is, many dental problems start out small, insignificant, and without pain involved. But like a crack in your car windshield, fractured enamel doesn’t repair itself. Over time, that crack or broken area just creeps through more of the tooth. Once it gets to your nerve, it can cause severe pain or tooth death.

Delay the treatment too long, and your tooth will need to be pulled because it’s not possible to put a crown over it at all. By that point, you’re looking at getting a bridge or even an implant. It’s better for your smile when you’re able to salvage and repair the teeth that nature gave you.


Inlays, Onlays, and Crowns…Which is Right for You?

At Greenspoint Dental, our Houston dentists take several factors into consideration when it comes to planning out your appropriate treatment. We’ll discuss things like your aesthetic goals, the health of your tooth, past dental problems, and even your insurance coverage. Once we create a care plan that outlines the options available, we can discuss any questions or concerns you might have as to which one is most appropriate.

After we get an x-ray taken of your tooth to see even further inside of your enamel, we’ll talk about the best option available. You might be luckier off than you think…if an inlay or onlay is “overkill,” a small white filling could be all that you need. It’s amazing how some dental problems can feel larger than life when you’re inspecting them with your tongue. But if x-rays show there is even deeper damage than originally suspected, a root canal may also be in order.


How Much do Crowns and Inlays or Onlays Cost in Houston?

Before you ever start your treatment with our Houston dentists, Greenspoint Dental will provide you with an itemized care plan that outlines the exact costs of each restoration…be it an inlay, onlay, or crown. Next, we’ll verify your insurance coverage so as to provide you an estimate of how much your carrier will pay for your procedure. If you haven’t met any deductibles, this will need to be taken into consideration.

Most dental insurance plans pay for about 50% of all crowns, inlays, and onlays. Other cost considerations include whether or not you opt for sedation during your preparation appointment, and the type of material we use to make your restoration.


Are There Other Considerations I Should Keep in Mind?

Yes. Before you start any type of lab work such as having crowns or inlays/onlays made, you’ll want to consider your future smile plans. Are you hoping to whiten your teeth in the next year or two, get veneers, or even wear braces? All of these can impact how we want to approach your treatment.

As an example, if you hope to schedule a ZOOM! Teeth Whitening visit a few months from now, know that a porcelain restoration will not be affected by the bleach. Existing crowns, white fillings, etc. will stay the same color. So, if you want to whiten your smile, talk to our Houston dentists about it before we match the color of your new inlay or onlay.


Houston Crowns and Three-Quarter Crowns

Make sure you don’t loose your whole tooth altogether. Make an appointment with Greenspoint Dental today. We offer a comprehensive line of strong and aesthetically pleasing inlays, onlays, crowns, and more.


Call us now to schedule your next visit at Greenspoint Dental to get started.