What Are Onlays and Crowns?


We recently explored the differences between fillings and inlays, two common restorative procedures for minor damage, such as when you have a small cavity. But what can be done if you have a bigger issue? Fortunately, there are additional options and that’s when onlays and crowns come into play.



Very similar to an inlay, an onlay is when the tooth needs treatment on one or more of the cusps. Also known as a partial crown, an onlay is a more conservative approach than a crown for repairing damage. It involves removing the broken or decayed portion of the tooth and replacing it with a custom-made restoration. Onlays are ideal when the damage is limited to the chewing surface and one or more cusps (high points) of the tooth. They are often made from porcelain or even Gold, restoring strength to the tooth.



A dental crown, on the other hand, is a full-coverage restoration that encases the entire tooth. It is used when the tooth is severely damaged or weakened, such as after a root canal treatment or due to extensive decay or fractures. Crowns can be made from various materials, including porcelain fused to metal, all-ceramic, zirconia, or gold alloy. The choice depends on factors such as aesthetics, durability, and the location of the tooth.


When Do You Need an Onlay?


  1. Tooth Decay: When decay affects only a portion of the tooth, an onlay can effectively repair and restore its function while still preserving much of the tooth. This approach is less invasive and helps avoid unnecessary removal of healthy tooth structure.

  2. Fractured Cusps: If one or more cusps of a tooth are fractured, an onlay can be placed to protect and strengthen the tooth. This prevents further damage and promotes long-term oral health.

  3. Large Fillings: When a large filling weakens the tooth structure, an onlay can replace the filling and provide additional strength and support.


When Do You Need a Crown?


  1. Extensive Decay: If decay has spread throughout the tooth, compromising its structural integrity, a crown is necessary to restore its strength and protect it from further damage.

  2. Root Canal Treatment: After a root canal procedure, the tooth becomes more vulnerable and may require a crown to reinforce and protect it.

  3. Cracked or Fractured Tooth: When a tooth is severely cracked or fractured, a crown is needed to hold the pieces together and prevent further damage or loss of the tooth.


Both onlays and crowns are effective dental restorations that can help preserve your natural teeth and maintain your oral health. The decision between an onlay and a crown depends on the extent of damage, location, and specific needs of your tooth. At Downtown Franklin Family Dentistry, we’ll present you with the best options for treatment and help you make the best decisions to preserve your teeth and healthy smile for a lifetime.


Prevention is always the best way to ensure your oral health. Early intervention and regular dental check-ups are key to preventing the need for extensive restorative procedures and minimizing your need for a crown or onlay. Call us today to schedule your next check-up so we can treat minor issues before they become major ones.

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