If you have tooth damage, such as cracks or decay that is too large for a filling but not extensive enough to need a dental crown, you will likely be in the market for tooth inlays. Inlays and onlays can restore the form and function of damaged teeth. But what exactly is the difference between these two?

This blog post will briefly discuss inlay vs. onlay, including their benefits and drawbacks, so you can determine which treatment better meets your needs.

What Are Dental Inlays?

Dental or tooth inlays are used in a less invasive restoration procedure that requires less tooth structure to be removed. They provide stronger coverage than tooth filling while maintaining the strength and integrity of the tooth. And unlike a filling, composite material (composite resins) to fill the space and takes only a single visit, an inlay is a solid piece of porcelain that is custom-made in a laboratory.

Once finished, it is bonded into the tooth crown, giving it protection and restoring its shape, look, and function.

What Are Dental Onlays?

Dental onlays are a durable, tooth-colored restoration used to replace old fillings or repair damaged teeth. It is generally composed of either ceramic or porcelain  materials that offer superior strength, longevity, and aesthetics compared to traditional fillings.

For more severe conditions, onlays provide a conservative treatment option as it covers less of the natural tooth surface than crowns and can help minimize the removal of healthy tooth structure. A dental onlay removed less natural tooth structure than a dental crown. 

What Are the Differences Between Onlay and Inlay?

The most significant difference between an onlay and inlay is that an onlay covers a larger portion of the tooth compared to an inlay. An onlay is used when there is significant damage to one or more cusps, while an inlay can address decay or damage within the center of the tooth.

Onlays are also known as partial crowns because they often extend to one or more edges of the affected tooth. In contrast, an inlay fits within the boundaries of the damaged area and does not extend beyond it. Furthermore, while both inlays and onlays are designed to last for many years with proper oral hygiene, the latter generally have a longer lifespan than inlays due to their more extensive coverage.

How Is the Inlay and Onlay Procedure Done?

  • The dental inlay and onlay procedure usually requires two  dental appointments. During your first visit, the affected part of the tooth is removed, and the tooth is cleaned. But before these, your dentist will give you local anesthesia to numb the area. Sometimes, patients may request sedatives or general anesthesia if they have dental fear.
  • Your dentist will then take your teeth’s impression to ensure a perfect fit with an intraoral scanner.
  • After the impression is taken, it is sent to a dental laboratory for fabrication of the restoration. While waiting for the permanent one, a temporary restoration will be placed over the affected area until your next appointment.
  • At your second visit, your dentist will bond and fit the finished product into place. They may also make minor adjustments to ensure no interference with adjacent teeth when biting down or chewing food.
  • Before you leave the dental clinic, your dentist will give you instructions on the proper care of your restoration to extend its lifespan.

Pros and Cons of Inlays and Onlays

Here are the pros and cons of inlays and onlays that can help you decide whether to undergo the procedure:


  • Increased Protection

Dental inlays and onlays address an existing cavity and tooth decay and protect your teeth against further damage.

  • Better Color Match

Onlays and inlays can be customized to match the color of your natural teeth.

  • Durability

Inlays and onlays are durable and long-lasting when properly cared for, allowing your affected tooth to withstand chewing pressure.

  • Restore failed dental fillings

Both dental restorations can be used if you have failed dental fillings

  • Less Tooth Structure Requirement

Inlays and onlays do not require grinding down of healthy tooth structure like dental crowns do.


  • Cost

Inlays and onlays are often more expensive than other alternatives like dental fillings.

  • Multiple Visits Needed

Compared to dental filling procedures, you need more than one dental visit, which may be inconvenient if you are busy.

What Are Inlay And Onlays Costs?

Inlay and onlays are used in restorative procedures that require careful craftsmanship, which can be expensive, but the result can be worth it if you consider the benefits. The overall cost varies, depending on your location and dentist, the type of treatment you need, whether or not you have dental insurance, and the material used.

On average, you can expect to spend slightly less than the cost of a crown. The exact amounts can vary between dentists , so it’s best to contact your dentist for a more accurate quote.

Also, not all insurance providers cover the cost of these treatments, so ask them beforehand to avoid surprises. You may also ask them about flexible payment plans, such as monthly installments.

Dental Inlay Vs. Onlay: Which Is Better?

Choosing between dental inlays and onlays to address your dental issue can be tricky. In general, both procedures can be used to restore teeth damaged by dental decay, but the difference lies in the specific circumstances of each case.

Remember that inlays are used to fill cavities between cusps, but onlays can cover larger areas, including the cusps. However, both do not cover the entire tooth, as crowns do. The type of dental work needed depends mainly on the severity of the problem, so while both offer an effective solution, an assessment from your dentist will provide insight into which option is the most suitable for your needs.

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