Inlays and Onlays: What Are They and How Do They Work?


Learn how inlays and onlays benefit your smile.

You’re probably already familiar with dental fillings and porcelain crowns as options to help restore damaged or decayed teeth. But have you heard of inlays and onlays?

If you haven’t, you’re not alone! Inlays and onlays are not as popular as fillings and crowns, but to no fault of their own. Not only do they offer many benefits, but they may even be superior alternatives to fillings and crowns for many patients.

How Inlays and Onlays Work

As mentioned, they are both forms of restorative dentistry. They are used to repair teeth that have experienced damage from injury or tooth decay. After decay and weakened enamel is removed, your dentist will apply an inlay or onlay to patch over the gap or hole.

More than a filling, but less than a crown.

An easy way to understand how inlays and onlays work is to think of them as offering more protection than a simple dental filling but being less invasive than a dental crown. Inlays/onlays serve very similar purposes to both fillings and crowns but manage to offer a happy medium between the two options.

Inlays/onlays are made of a tooth-colored composite.

Modern inlays and onlays are made of a tooth-colored composite material just like tooth-colored dental fillings and composite resin dental crowns. This material is color-matched to the tooth being treated to ensure it blends in seamlessly.

Artistic sculpting makes for a stunning smile.

Your dentist will artistically sculpt your inlay/onlay onto your tooth using detailed and precise instruments. Not only will your inlay or onlay match the color and shade of your tooth, but it will also serve to enhance your overall smile.

The Difference Between Inlays and Onlays

You might be wondering what the difference is between inlays and onlays. After all, they seem to be the very same thing. To put it simply, they are the same forms of restoration. The difference in the name simply points to how much tooth is being covered.

Inlays fill in moderate spaces between the cusps.

Inlays cover small to moderate spaces or gaps within a tooth. Most importantly, inlays sit in between the cusps of your tooth. The location of an inlay is very similar to a simple dental filling.

Onlays cover more of your tooth, including the cusps.

When a tooth has experienced damage to the cusps, you’ll receive an onlay rather than an inlay. Onlays cover more of the tooth surfaces, including the main chewing surface. Sometimes onlays may nearly cover the entire top of your tooth, almost like a partial crown.

Advantages of Inlays and Onlays

Here are five big advantages of inlays and onlays.

1. They preserve your natural tooth as much as possible.

An important goal in modern restorative dentistry is to preserve as much natural tooth as possible. Inlays and onlays are minimally invasive, similarly to dental fillings, and keep all of your healthy tooth structure intact.

2. Inlays don’t run the risk of shrinking like dental fillings.

Dental fillings can sometimes come loose due to shrinkage, particularly older silver amalgam fillings. Though filling shrinkage isn’t an exceedingly common problem, it’s worth noting that tooth-colored composite inlays and onlays don’t run this same risk. They are very stable restorations that rarely experience negative effects.

3. They are long-lasting, durable, and stain-resistant.

The tooth-colored composite material used for inlays and onlays is very tough and highly stain-resistant, though proper oral hygiene is still a must. They can last between 10 and 15 years before needing to be replaced.

4. Onlays don’t require enamel removal prep like crowns.

Dental crowns require a preparation process that requires the removal of healthy tooth enamel to compensate for the material thickness of the crown. The preparation process for an onlay is far less invasive, involving the surface being primed to accept special dental adhesives. Patients rarely experience sensitivity or discomfort after an onlay is placed.

5. Onlays are an affordable solution compared to crowns.

In some cases of extreme damage, a dental crown is the only solution. However, if your tooth is still healthy and strong, an onlay is the perfect way to get more protection than a filling without needing to invest in a dental crown. If you’re on a budget, finding a dentist, like Tomasik Family Dental, that offers onlays could be your saving grace.

Find out if inlays or onlays are the right choice for your smile.

If you’re interested in inlays, onlays, or another form of restorative dental care, Tomasik Family Dental is ready to help! You can begin your journey toward optimal oral health and a beautiful smile by calling our office to book your appointment or consultation. During non-business hours, feel free to fill out this easy online form or leave us a message.