Learning All About Dental Inlays And Onlays

inlays and onlays

Modern dentistry offers many options for the treatment of every tooth problem. When it comes to physical damage, inlays and onlays are extremely effective tools standing ready to help. These versatile dental prostheses are used in a wide variety of restorative dentistry, and results are typically excellent.

Definitions- Inlays and Onlays

Inlays and onlays are dental prostheses designed to restore missing teeth. What makes them distinctive is that they are crafted with great precision in a dental laboratory. Inlays are made to fill a cavity in a tooth, while onlays are used to replace damaged cusps and other exterior tooth surfaces. Like most long-term dental prostheses, inlays and onlays can be made from a variety of durable materials, including gold, porcelain, and high-durability resins. Gold has proven to be the most reliable and durable alternative, but many patients prefer a natural-looking material in cases where the prosthesis will be highly visible.


Dental inlays and onlays are sometimes used in the same cases where traditional fillings would be applied. Dental crowns are in fact a form of onlay, a complete cap designed to replace all exterior tooth surfaces. “Onlay” is the preferred term among dental professionals, as it covers partial tooth replacements as well as full crowns. While preparing and installing an inlay or onlay is a more involved procedure than the immediate application of a common filling, they offer several advantages to the faster technique, discussed below.

Typical Procedure For Dental Inlays And Onlays

Having an inlay or an onlay fitted requires at least two visits to the dentist. The initial stage is taking dental impressions. The dentist has the patient bite into high-grade dental putty to form a precise mold of the damaged teeth. This is the model to which the dental laboratory will work. It’s common to take full-mouth molds even if only one or two teeth are being repaired. (This is so the laboratory can match the new dental inlays and onlays to similar teeth on the opposite side of the mouth.)

The patient needs to return for fitting after the prostheses have been prepared and sent to the dentist. The dentist typically creates a temporary restoration (a filling or cover) to protect the damaged area before installation. The fit of the new prostheses is carefully checked by the dentist before a strong epoxy is used to bond them in place. The dentist then sands and polishes the new teeth to ensure smooth joints and an attractive appearance.


Inlays and onlays offer a much greater degree of precision than amalgam fillings. The fit between the prostheses and the surrounding tooth material is tighter, producing less space that could trap bacteria or other foreign substances. Modern inlays and onlays are very colorfast, in contrast to some earlier alternatives that did not wear like real teeth. Unlike a traditional amalgam filling, which will shrink slightly during the curing process, an inlay is designed to fit precisely before it is installed. Finally, the reliability of inlays and onlays is made clear by the fact that these prostheses are often used to replace earlier dental work following failure. Dentists trust the superior durability of a well-designed inlay or onlay, and they expect it to be entirely permanent.


The only real disadvantages to inlays and onlays are their cost and the long lead time required to manufacture them properly. The time issue is rather trivial, as dentists can prepare temporary repairs to ensure patients can wait for prostheses to be prepared. Cost is another matter, though. While most inlays and onlays are prepared for genuine dental health reasons, with aesthetics being only a secondary concern, some insurance companies balk at the increased cost. They may cover only a limited portion of the overall expense. However, dentists are good at making the case for durable inlays and onlays, and many patients are more than willing to pay extra for work that will last a lifetime.

Although applying inlays and onlays is not the solution to every dental problem, in the proper conditions it’s often the best way to repair damage and restore the appearance of natural teeth. Dentists don’t hesitate to recommend an inlay or an onlay when it’s the best way to permanently repair a tooth, and patients who heed their advice are rarely disappointed with the results.

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