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What Is A Dental Onlay?

You’re enjoying a scoop of Skittles, a second handful that you probably didn’t need.  You bite down and there’s a snapping noise, and that doesn’t seem right. Your tongue instantly finds the cause:  A large piece of your lower right molar has gone missing, and you already swallowed it.

Although you feel a little panicky, odds are that your tooth has had a minor setback that can be overcome.  Teeth, the hardest substance in our bodies, experience a lot of functional stress day after day. This hard, crystal structure may develop small cracks, especially if there’s a filling sitting in the center of it.  Millions of chewing cycles combined with quick changes in temperature from food and drink often create micro-fractures that grow in size over time.

Destined to Break

It’s easy to blame the Skittles, but they’re just the final straw on the wear-and-tear of chewing.  Fortunately, most teeth don’t need to be removed even if they break. In fact, most of them don’t require root canal treatment, either. A broken tooth may be sensitive to cold and jagged to the tongue, but chances are on your side that it can be fixed.

When weighing the range of options to repair a broken tooth, dentists consider the most conservative options to offer.  We need a material that can handle up to 300 pounds per square inch of force while replicating natural tooth structure in many ways. Fortunately, modern dental materials allow us to rebuild teeth to full strength and preserve good tooth structure at the same time.  

Is It Worth Fixing?

You can leave a broken tooth untreated, but there are risks when a weakened tooth remains damaged. Ultimately, the danger of losing the tooth runs much higher than if you choose to keep the tooth.  While teeth may need to be fully covered with a dental crown, some smaller fractures can be repaired with a dental onlay. A crown takes a little more tooth shaping to fit, but onlays allow the unbroken portions of a tooth to remain uncut.  A custom piece of porcelain, like a partial crown, is bonded into the damaged section. In this way, it “lays on” the damaged areas but leaves the rest of the tooth unaltered.

Onlays invisibly blend with the natural enamel and increase both function and appearance. The remaining tooth must be sound, an assessment that our dentist makes with exam and xrays.  When the most conservative option fits your particular situation, your dentist suggests an onlay for an exceptional restoration. 

And you’ll be grabbing a handful of Skittles again before you know it! But don’t forget to brush afterwards!

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