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Ask a Dentist: Is a Dental Inlay the Same as a Filling?
Dentists can use either a filling or a dental inlay to treat a cavity. Catching dental caries early and completing the proper treatment is a key component of oral healthcare. Treating cavities while they are small can prevent serious dental problems down the road. So what is the difference between a filling and an inlay? Is one treatment option better than the other? Here is what you need to know.
Fillings vs. inlays
While both traditional fillings and inlays are used to treat the same thing — a cavity in the tooth — they are often made of different materials, use different dental procedures and may be used in different situations.
What materials are used
Fillings are usually made from silver or tooth-colored composite resin. Composite resin is strong, bonds well to the tooth surface and has the advantage of looking like the other teeth. An inlay can also be made of composite material but is often made of ceramic porcelain or gold.
How the procedures differ
The procedure for each is different. A filling can be prepped and filled in one appointment. For a dental inlay, the dentist preps the tooth and then takes an impression of it to send off to a lab. The lab then fabricates a single solid piece that will fit perfectly into the cavity. Once the piece is returned, the dentist cements it into place during a separate appointment.
Some dentists now offer technology in-office that can create an inlay while the patient waits. Using 3D printing technology, the dentist can scan the prepared tooth and send the information to the machine. This eliminates the need for a temporary inlay. However, sending impressions to a lab for fabrication is still the most common method.
When dentists use each
Both fillings and inlays treat dental caries, but they are not used interchangeably. Dental inlays are more appropriate for significant cavities, especially in the back teeth where most chewing takes place. For an inlay, there still needs to be a large part of the tooth structure intact, but for cavities right on the chewing surfaces, like the center of a molar, inlays may be a better option than a traditional filling. They are often more durable and so can be better for chewing. Inlays also have a lower rate of failing over time than fillings.
Traditional fillings are typically the recommended option for minor caries. The process is quick and effective, can be completed in one visit and preserves as much tooth as possible.
Dentists use both fillings and inlays on a regular basis depending on each patient’s situation. A dental inlay is the next step up from a traditional filling and is appropriate when there are larger cavities present. If even more of the tooth is compromised, an overlay or a crown may be the appropriate procedure. A dentist is able to advise a patient on the most effective treatment. Regular visits to the dentist for check-ups can help avoid extensive dental work and keep your mouth healthy.
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