A dental inlay or an onlay may be recommended when one of your old fillings needs to be replaced. An inlay looks a lot like a filling and it fits between the top edges of the tooth. A dental onlay extends past this point and for this reason is more costly. These procedures are used when they integrity of the tooth cannot support a large filling and your dentist may recommend an onlay, an inlay or even a crown in this type of situation.


Inlays are used to repair a tooth’s surface and are indicated when the top edges of the teeth, known as the cusps, are showing signs of decay. These inlays can be made of different materials including gold, composite resin or porcelain. Composite resin and porcelain inlays can be made to match the color of the rest of the tooth and the teeth surrounding it. Once an inlay has been put into place you won’t be able to tell the difference between the inlay and the rest of your teeth.

Inlays are strong and can withstand exposure to both cold and hot. They can add more strength to a tooth than a filling and are less costly than crowns. They are custom-made in a lab according to a mold that has been taken of your tooth. For this reason, an inlay usually involves 2 dental appointments – 1 to take the mold for the fabrication and the second to bond the inlay to the tooth once it has arrived at your dentist’s office.


An onlay may be indicated when a larger portion of the tooth needs to be treated. Think of it as a partial crown since it can cover such a wide area. An onlay is also custom-made and sent out to the lab for fabrication. During this time your dentist may restore the tooth temporarily until the finished onlay arrives. Then it will be bonded securely to your tooth and polished to match your bite.

Both onlays and inlays can be considered as an alternative to crowns in many situations. If you don’t have dental insurance, your dentist may recommend one of these solutions instead. Both can give the tooth more strength, look completely natural and save you money. They cannot, however, be used on a tooth that has suffered too much damage. In this type of scenario, a crown might be the only option.

Your dentist will let you know what type of treatment plan he recommends based on the tooth itself. He will also take your budget into account and suggest an inlay or an onlay when possible if you really can’t afford a crown. It will all depend on how much tooth is left, your budget and on your overall dental health.

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