If you visit a dentist and he or she discovers a large cavity or a section of wear on the surface of your tooth, the dentist may recommend a restoration called an inlay. Since inlays are not quite as common as fillings or crowns, you may not be as familiar with them. Here is what you need to know about inlays and the process of having one put into place.
What are inlays?
Inlays are technically a type of filling, but they are constructed and inserted differently than the standard amalgam or composite resin fillings you've probably had in the past. Inlays are made outside of the mouth and then inserted in the cavity. They are commonly used to address areas of enamel loss and wear, caused by grinding the teeth, too.
Inlays are usually made from porcelain since this material can be specially formulated to match the color of your natural tooth. However, gold inlays also exist and may be recommended for very large cavities that cannot be seen when you smile.
When are inlays used instead of crowns?
Inlays could be considered an in-between option that offers more tooth strength than a filling, but not as much as a crown. They are used when your dentist feels a crown is not quite necessary to add support to the tooth -- often when the cavity compromises the tooth's strength only somewhat. Inlays are less expensive than crowns, and they're easier to put in place. So, your dentist may recommend an inlay if you're on a budget but need more support than a filling offers.
What happens when your dentist applies an inlay?
Usually, you will need to have two appointments with your dentist for the inlay restoration. During the first appointment, your dentist will remove the decayed or damaged tooth material, often using a drill or sometimes a laser. Local anesthetic will be used so that you do not feel any pain during this procedure, though you will notice vibrations and some pressure. When the damaged material is gone, your dentist will have you bite down into a special putty to make a mold of your tooth. This mold is sent to a lab where an inlay is custom made for you.
When your dentist is done making molds, he or she will fill the hole in your tooth with a temporary resin material. You'll need to avoid chewing on that side of your mouth and stick to softer foods for about a week until you can return for your second appointment.
At your second appointment, the temporary filling is removed. Your dentist then uses a special cement to attach the inlay, which should fit precisely into place. Your dentist may then need to file the inlay down a bit to ensure your bite lines up properly. This process should be painless since local anesthesia will be used once again.
How do you care for an inlay?
The great thing about inlays is that once they're in place, you won't even notice they are there. Just care for your tooth as usual with daily brushing and flossing. Make sure you see your dentist several times per year for checkups; they will look over the inlay and make sure it has not cracked or begun to separate from your tooth. Inlays can last a lifetime, though some need to be replaced after 20 or 30 years. You may notice some sensitivity in the tooth for a few days or weeks after having the inlay inserted, but this soon subsides.
If your dentist has recommended an inlay, do not worry. This procedure may not be as common as inserting a filling or crown, but it is still a very standard dental procedure that generally goes smoothly and offers years of protection for your tooth. To get more information, contact a dental office like Airport Road Dental Associates.