Inlays & onlays

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Inlays and onlays are conservative dental restorations that are used to fix moderately-to-severely damaged teeth. Essentially, they are a hybrid between fillings and crowns. Inlays and onlays are ideal for restoring teeth too severely damaged for a filling, but not so bad where they require a full-coverage crown. By placing an inlay or onlay, you restore the damaged portion of your tooth while preserving healthy tooth structure. These types of restorations are conservative, durable, and natural-looking.


What is the difference between an inlay and onlay?

Inlays and onlays are very similar to one another. The only difference between the two is in how much tooth removal each one requires. Inlays are closer to fillings in terms of size and function, whereas onlays are closer to full-coverage crowns: 


Inlays are more conservative than onlays and preserve maximum tooth structure. These types of restorations are appropriate for fixing minimally damaged teeth. Inlays are completely confined to the inner portion of your tooth and they don’t require the removal of your tooth walls (outer tooth structure).


Onlays are larger than inlays and they are used to restore more extensively damaged teeth. All onlays cover at least one outer tooth wall, thus going beyond your inner tooth structure. Since onlays cover more tooth structure, they leave just a small portion of your original tooth intact.

What is the inlay or onlay process?


Inlays and onlays are custom-designed laboratory restorations used to restore damaged teeth. Preparing your teeth for inlays and onlays involves two steps, which are:

Tooth preparation

First, you and your dentist examine your tooth to determine if an inlay or onlay is the best solution. If it is decided that an inlay or onlay is your best option, your dentist will start off by numbing your tooth. Once numb, your dentist removes all decay, failing fillings, and factures from your damaged tooth. Next, they take an impression or digital scan of your prepared tooth. This will be used to fabricate your inlay or onlay for the next step.


Now it’s time to make your custom inlay or onlay. Some dentists make their inlays and onlays in-house using a Cerec machine. Others send them out to a local laboratory. If your inlay or onlay is sent to the lab, then you must wear a temporary during the waiting time, which is typically one to two weeks. Your dentist will try your inlay or onlay in your mouth to make sure that it’s a great fit. Once you’re satisfied with the look and fit, it’s time to deliver your restoration. Your dentist will bond your inlay or onlay to your tooth and permanently seat it in place. Be sure to follow your dentist’s instruction and you’re all set to go!

How do inlays and onlays differ from a crown?


Inlays, onlays, and crowns are all laboratory fabricated dental prostheses that are used to restore damaged teeth. They’re all made in a laboratory or oven from an impression or scan of your tooth. Inlays and onlays differ from crowns in terms of how much tooth structure is removed:

  • Inlays are the most conservative laboratory-fabricated restoration. They require minimal tooth removal.
  • Onlays are larger. They cover more tooth structure while at the same time leaving some healthy tooth intact.
  • Full-coverage crowns are the largest restoration. They cover the entire portion of your tooth above the gumlines.

Benefits of inlays and onlays

Inlays and onlays offer several benefits over dental fillings and crowns. Here are a few reasons to choose an inlay or onlay to restore your damaged teeth:

Superior tooth protection

Inlays and onlays provide a better seal against cavities as compared to fillings. White fillings are made from porous resin. making them susceptible to breaking under chewing stress. Fillings are likely to leak and develop recurring cavities that lead to nerve damage and infection. Inlays and onlays last longer, are more durable, and offer better tooth protection as compared to fillings.

Conservative approach

When designing inlays and onlays, your dentist removes damaged tooth structure and leaves healthy tooth intact. Consequently, inlays and onlay are more conservative than standard crowns. This is beneficial since you reduce the likelihood of developing tooth sensitivity, infection, or causing irreversible tooth damage.


Inlays and onlays are both made from ceramic, making them extremely durable and fracture resistant. A well-designed inlay or onlay could easily last you decades or even a lifetime. It protects your tooth from further damage while reducing the chances of developing dental infection or having your tooth break off.

When is your tooth not a good candidate for an inlay or onlay?

Inlays and onlays are used to restore moderately damaged teeth. They are a great option for restoring teeth that are too damaged to be restored with fillings, but not so bad where they require a crown. Here are a few examples of cases where an inlay or onlay might not be a good treatment option:

Small defects

Tooth with small cavities should be restored with dental fillings. Inlays and onlays are only appropriate when your cavity becomes so large that a standard filling will no longer work. 

Severely damaged tooth


While inlays and onlays are not a good restoration option for barely damaged teeth, they are also not useful for fixing severely damaged teeth. If your tooth is badly damaged, a conservative restoration is not a good treatment option. Severely damaged teeth require crowns that protects the entire tooth. Placing an inlay or onlay leaves your tooth vulnerable to further damage and can even cause your tooth to break off!

Patients with heavy bite forces


Inlays and onlays are not as effective as crowns at handling bite forces. Your inlays and onlays are likely to break if you’re placing too much stress on your teeth. Here are a few scenarios where you’re better off avoiding inlays and onlays due to excessive bite forces:

Multiple missing teeth

If you’re missing a few teeth then you’re placing added forces on your remaining teeth. This added bite pressure can cause your inlays and onlays to fracture. Therefore if you’re missing multiple teeth in your mouth then it’s better to go with full-coverage crowns instead.

Poor bite relationship

Another reason to avoid inlays and onlays is if you suffer from a poor bite relationship. If you have a crossbite or underbite, you place a lot of extra stress on your teeth. Again, it’s better to go with full-coverage crowns instead of inlays and onlays.

Teeth grinding

Heavy teeth grinders place 5 to 6 times the normal stress onto their teeth. This causes your dental restorations to break and fail repeatedly. If you’re a heavy tooth grinder you should avoid inlays and onlays altogether. Go with a full-coverage crown instead to give your dental restorations the best chance of survival! In fact, the heaviest teeth grinders should only consider restoring their teeth with either gold or an extra-durable ceramic (like BruxZir crowns).

Fixing your teeth with inlays and onlays


Schedule an appointment with a dentist next to your to see if you’re a good candidate for inlays or onlays. Use our dentist Search Engine if you’re searching for a great dentist near you. You can look through their profile, read reviews, view treatment photos, even buy deals! You can also schedule your next appointment conveniently online. Don’t postpone treatment any longer! Get your tooth fixed with an inlay or onlay before it tunrs into a root canal or dental implants today!


Categories: Dental Restorations


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