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What Are Inlays and Onlays?

Dental inlays and onlays are used in cosmetic dentistry procedures that don’t require extensive bridgework, but still need repairs. For those who have a mild to moderate amount of tooth decay, dental inlays and onlays can be very effective methods of restoring teeth to their proper function and attractiveness. Additionally, dental inlays and onlays can repair and restore teeth that are chipped, cracked, broken, or fractured due to damage that has caused a breakdown of function. Dental patients and throughout the country have relied on dental inlays and onlays to help them get back their confidence and tooth function for decades, and today these procedures are more popular than ever.

Difference between inlays and onlays

Not everyone knows it, but a cavity is tooth decay. If you have any kind of tooth decay, you likely know you need a filling to repair your damaged tooth. Dental inlays and onlays are fillings that typically are used for more pronounced tooth decay than a simple little cavity.


A dental inlay is a type of filling that your family dentist will use to repair decayed areas that occur in the chewing surfaces of your teeth (typically the back teeth). Depending on the size of the decayed area, a top dentist may recommend a dental inlay to be placed over a traditional filling, as conventional fillings may not be sufficient for the affected area. Inlays generally are constructed of gold or porcelain.


A dental onlay is like an inlay, except that it typically is used on larger areas of the tooth. Onlays are used to repair chewing surfaces of back teeth, but they also can be used on the cusps, which are the raised areas of the tooth that are located on its outer edges. Additionally, dental onlays are used when tooth decay is more significant, but enough of the tooth’s natural structure remains that a cap or crown isn’t necessary. Onlays also are constructed of gold or porcelain.

Advantages of Inlays and Onlays

Dental inlays and onlays have several advantages for patients who receive them. First, inlays and onlays are stronger than other fillings available. They also come in a wider variety of colors, which is a big plus for patients who don’t want the look of conventional fillings in their mouths. Inlays and onlays also are more durable than conventional fillings, provided patients observe proper dental hygiene habits. Finally, dental inlays and onlays can be a viable alternative to caps or crowns that may be more expensive.

Disadvantages Inlays and Onlays

The procedure necessary for dental inlays and onlays may require more visits to a dental office than conventional fillings. Though inlays and onlays generally are more durable than regular fillings, in some cases they may get broken or fall off or out of the tooth, in which case a second procedure likely will be necessary. In most of these cases, however, inlays or onlays come out because patients were eating sticky or chewy foods that pulled them out, just as with conventional fillings. Additionally, it may be necessary in an inlay or onlay procedure for more of the natural tooth to be removed. Perhaps the biggest disadvantage of dental inlays and onlays is their cost. These procedures typically are more expensive than the procedure necessary for conventional fillings. However, because they are used for teeth that have more decay than are conventional fillings, inlays or onlays often are necessary to repair the structure and integrity of teeth. If an inlay or onlay is necessary, some dental insurance do cover their procedures. Check with your dental insurance policy to find out if these procedures are covered.

The placement of a dental inlay or onlay is a pretty simple dental procedure that takes little time at your family dentist, especially considering the benefits you reap, and there’s not much in this life you can say that about. If you’re someone who suffers from mild-to-moderate tooth decay, or you’ve suffered loss of function from a cracked or fractured tooth, contact a cosmetic dentist to schedule a consultation to learn how dental inlays and onlays can help you get back your ability to eat with ease.

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