Differences between Inlays, Onlays, and Dental Fillings

Differences between Inlays, Onlays, and Dental Fillings

October 24, 2018

When we think of repairing a decayed tooth or a cavity, a dental filling always comes to mind. After all, they’ve been the go-to solution for cavities for many decades. These days, if you’ve got a damaged or decayed tooth, a filling isn’t your only option. Dental restoration gives you options. Inlays and onlays are good alternatives to fillings, but dental fillings are naturally still available. Made from porcelain, resin or gold, inlays, and onlays are neither caps nor crowns, but just what are they, and what are the differences between inlays, onlays, and dental fillings?


Inlays fill cavities and replace more of the tooth’s interior to give the tooth high resistance to fracturing. In the past, it wasn’t uncommon for a tooth repaired with a large filling to shatter to pieces, leaving only a fragment of a tooth attached to the filling. By reinforcing the tooth from the inside, inlays prevent fractures.


Like inlays, onlays fill a cavity that’s too large for traditional fillings. They replace a portion of the tooth that’s weakened or damaged and replace a tooth cusp, the raised portion of the tooth. They’re not crowns, as they don’t sit on top of the tooth’s entire surface. Instead, they replace part of the tooth and a cusp. They’re made from one single piece of replacement material.


With fillings, dentists drill out the decayed matter in the tooth, then fill the cavity with white (composite) or silver (amalgam) material. Fillings work best when the area of decay is small and hasn’t weakened the tooth structure significantly.

How are inlays and onlays made?

Inlays and onlays are made in a dental lab. It takes two visits to your dentist to have an inlay or onlay fitted. Your dentist will take measurements to determine the size and measurements of the inlay or online.

Advantages of Inlays and Onlays

  • Tooth strength. They give the tooth long life while reinforcing it against fractures and cracks.
  • Outstanding fit. Inlays and onlays are shaped to fit and will not shift, expand, or contract.
  • Complete sealing. Large dental fillings can contract over time, allowing decay-causing bacteria to enter the tooth’s recesses and interior. Inlays and onlays eliminate this problem completely.
  • Appearance. Dentists tint inlays and onlays to match your natural tooth coloration.

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