Find a Doctor

Dental Inlays and Onlays


Dental inlays and onlays are restorations used to repair rear teeth that have a mild to moderate amount of decay. They can also be used to restore teeth that are cracked or fractured if the damage is not severe enough to require a dental crown.

Inlays and onlays are usually made from porcelain, composite resin, and sometimes even from gold. Because they can be created from tooth-colored materials, inlays and onlays are often used to replace metal dental fillings for patients who desire a more natural looking smile. Read on to find out about how inlays and onlays may be able to enhance your smile’s health and appearance.

Strong & Durable Protection for Damaged Teeth

Close up of gold onlay

Inlays and onlays made of gold are extremely resilient to pressure.

Dental Inlays

Dental inlays are used to treat teeth that have decay or damage lying within their indented top surfaces, between the cusps of the teeth. They can also be used to replace old or damaged metal fillings. Inlay placement is usually carried out over two appointments. During your first visit to the dentist, an impression of your tooth will be taken, and a temporary inlay will be placed over the tooth. The dentist will send the impression off to a dental lab, which will create the inlay to match your tooth's specifications. When you return to the dentist's office, the temporary inlay will be removed and the permanent one will be placed carefully over your tooth. There is no downtime after receiving a dental inlay, only a mild level of tenderness in the treated area, so you can return to work or other activities as soon as you leave the office.

Since dental inlays and onlays can be made from durable, tooth-colored porcelain, they offer much more enduring and natural-looking results than metal fillings. In addition, their customized nature allows dentists to securely bond them to the tooth surface, adding structural integrity and preventing bacteria from entering and forming cavities.

Illustration of inlay vs. onlaly

Inlays are placed within the cusps of damaged teeth while onlays extend down the side of the tooth.

Dental Onlays

Whereas dental inlays are designed to treat decay within the cusps, or top projections, of a tooth, onlays are used to treat decay that extends to one or more of the cusps. Onlays are placed in much the same way as inlays. First, an impression of the decayed tooth is taken, and a temporary onlay is placed over the tooth. The impression is then sent to a lab, where a dental technician creates the onlay according to the tooth’s dimensions. When the patient returns to the dentist's office, the temporary onlay is removed, and the permanent restoration is placed on the tooth and securely bonded using high-strength dental resins.

Like dental inlays, onlays can be created from tooth-colored material, which makes them virtually undetectable to the naked eye. Onlays also help to conserve more tooth structure because their use requires minimal removal a tooth’s surface. Perhaps their most important benefit, however, is that, in saving damaged teeth, onlays help patients avoid the eventual need for more extensive treatment with dental crowns, dental bridges, or dental implants.

The Procedure

Inlays and onlays can be used to restore teeth that are affected by decay and cavities. The tooth-colored restorations can be used to fill in areas of inner or outer tooth surfaces; inlays refer to treatment in the center of the tooth, while onlays refer to treatment on tooth cusps or biting surfaces. Inlays and onlays are an excellent alternative to dental crowns and fillings. Like crowns, inlays and onlays are custom fabricated to fill in or fit your teeth, whereas dental fillings involve use of materials that can be molded into place during one visit.

Visit One - Tooth Preparation and Impression

After your tooth decay is diagnosed during your dental exam, your dentist will schedule at least two appointments for the inlays and onlays treatment. During the first appointment, your dentist will clean out the affected tooth, removing all areas of damage and decay. Next, your dentist will take an impression of your tooth so the inlay and onlay can be manufactured to provide a custom fit. Most inlays and onlays are made of porcelain, resin, or gold material. The majority of patients prefer porcelain and resin inlays and onlays because they are tooth-colored restorations that offer a more natural appearance. Finally, your dentist will place a temporary inlay or onlay on the affected tooth while the final piece is made.

Visit Two - Inlay or Onlay Placement

During your second treatment visit, your dentist will remove the temporary restoration and place the permanent inlay or onlay using a strong bonding material. Once the inlay or onlay is in place, surrounding tooth surfaces will be polished down to maintain optimal bite. Occasionally, a follow-up visit will be required to refine the bite surface and produce increased comfort.

Inlay and Onlay Results

  • Since they can be made from tooth-colored material, including porcelain and composite resin, inlays and onlays are virtually invisible.
  • Unlike metal fillings, inlays and onlays will not expand or contract in response to temperature changes caused by hot or cold foods. This change in size can cause teeth to weaken or fracture.
  • The use of inlays and onlays requires less tooth reduction than does the use of metal fillings. This allows dentists to conserve more of a patient’s natural tooth structure in the treatment process.
  • Because of the way inlays and onlays are made, they help to strengthen teeth by up to 75 percent.
  • The durable material from which inlays and onlays are made helps them last up to 30 years, much longer than that of conventional fillings.
  • Inlays and onlays can replace silver fillings to create a healthier, more natural-looking smile.
  • By saving decayed teeth, inlays and onlays prevent the need for more extensive treatment later on.

Inlays/Onlays Benefits and Risks

In treating dental decay, inlays and onlays help to eliminate tooth sensitivity and eventual tooth loss. Further, they are associated with few serious side effects and risks. Patients may experience some tooth sensitivity for a couple of days after treatment. Read more about the risks and benefits of inlays and onlays.

Inlays/Onlays Cost and Financing

The cost of porcelain inlays and onlays depends on the dentist’s training and the expense of the dental lab. Visit our inlays and onlays cost and financing page for detailed information about treatment pricing and payment options.

Consult a Dentist near You

Because of their strength, durability, and aesthetic quality, porcelain inlays and onlays are excellent solutions for larger cases of tooth decay.

Want More Information?

Contact a Doctor Near You.