Man in yellow shirt smiling with dental onlays.

Dental inlays and onlays are also known as indirect fillings. Like other types of fillings, they’re used to repair damaged or decayed teeth.

What Is A Dental Inlay?

A dental inlay is a filling that fits into the pits and fissures (grooves) of a tooth’s chewing surface. It doesn’t cover any of the tooth’s cusps (bumps).

What Is A Dental Onlay?

A dental onlay is also known as a partial crown. This restoration is more extensive than an inlay and covers one or more of your tooth’s cusps.

Inlay vs. Onlay: What’s The Difference?

Dental inlays and onlays are very similar. Both types of indirect fillings are used to repair the chewing surface of a tooth. The critical difference is how much of the chewing surface is covered. Inlays cover the pits and fissures between a tooth’s cusps, while onlays are more prominent and cover one or more cusps.

Cost is another difference between dental inlays and onlays. Since onlays cover a more significant portion of your tooth, they tend to cost more than inlays.

Why Would You Need A Dental Inlay Or Onlay?

Dental inlays and onlays are used to repair or restore teeth. Your dentist may recommend an indirect filling if your tooth is too damaged or decayed for a regular filling but hasn’t been weakened to the point that it needs a crown. This damage may have several causes, including:

  • Cavities. Cavities, also known as tooth decay, are holes or openings that form on the hard surface of the teeth. They’re typically repaired with fillings. When there isn’t enough tooth structure to support a regular filling, your dentist may suggest an inlay or onlay.
  • Cracked Teeth. Teeth may crack for many reasons, such as biting a hard object or experiencing a mouth injury. An onlay can be used in some situations to repair a cracked tooth. For example, your dentist may suggest an onlay if you crack or break the cusp of a tooth.
  • Clenching and Grinding. Also known as bruxism, this habit can wear away the chewing surfaces of your teeth. Over time, the teeth may get shorter, and you may have difficulty chewing. To restore the look and function of your teeth, your dentist may recommend dental restorations such as inlays or onlays.

Types Of Dental Inlays And Onlays

There are several types of dental onlays and inlays, including gold, composite resin, and porcelain. Each material has advantages and disadvantages. Your dentist can help you choose the type of inlay or onlay that’s right for your needs.

Gold inlays or onlays are made from a mixture of gold, copper, and other metals. Their bright, metallic appearance is advantageous for some people, while others prefer a more natural, tooth-colored appearance. With a lifespan of 20 years or more, they’re the most durable type of indirect filling. However, gold is generally more expensive than other filling materials.

Composite Resin
Composite resin is a tooth-colored material made from plastic and glass. It’s available in a variety of shades and can be closely matched to your natural tooth color. This helps your inlay or onlay blend into the rest of your tooth. Composite resin inlays and onlays tend to be the most affordable type. However, since composite resin is less durable than other materials used for inlays and onlays, it may chip or break. This material may also become stained over time.

Porcelain inlays and onlays are made from several minerals, including feldspar, quartz, and silica. Like composite resin, porcelain is available in many shades to mimic the color of your natural tooth. However, porcelain has some advantages over composite resin. It’s very durable and tends to last longer than composite resin. It’s also more resistant to stains. With its combination of esthetics and durability, the cost of porcelain is comparable to gold.

Dental Inlay/Onlay Procedure: Step By Step

Getting a dental inlay or onlay is like getting a regular filling. However, the dental inlay/onlay procedure can take one (1) or two (2) visits.

  • Prepare your tooth. After numbing the area around your decayed or damaged tooth, your dentist will prepare the tooth. If you have a cavity, they’ll use a drill to remove all the decay. If your tooth is damaged, they may remove some of its structure.
  • Take a digital impression. After preparing the tooth, your dentist will ask you to bite down on a putty-filled tray. This creates an exact mold of your tooth. Usually, the impression is sent to a dental laboratory that will create a customized inlay or onlay.
  • Place a temporary filling. To protect your tooth until the inlay or onlay is ready, your dentist will place a temporary filling, such as zinc oxide cement. These fillings only last about a month, so it’s essential to return for your second appointment.

When your new dental inlay or onlay is ready, you’ll return for your second visit. At this appointment, your dentist will:

  • Remove the temporary filling. To remove the temporary filling, your dentist may use a drill or handheld dental instruments. They may spray water on the filling to thin the cement.
  • Evaluate the inlay or onlay. Your dentist will carefully evaluate the fit of the new inlay or onlay. Sometimes, the restoration may need some minor adjustments for a perfect fit.
  • Place the inlay or onlay. After ensuring the new inlay or onlay fits well, your dentist will permanently cement it onto your tooth.

In some cases, a dental inlay or onlay takes only one visit. At this single visit your dentist will:

  • Prepare your tooth. After numbing the area around your decayed or damaged tooth, your dentist will prepare the tooth. If you have a cavity, they’ll use a drill to remove all the decay. If your tooth is damaged, they may remove some of its structure.
  • Take a digital impression. This may allow for same-day milling of the new inlay or onlay.
  • Place the inlay or onlay. After ensuring the new inlay or onlay fits well, your dentist will permanently cement it onto your tooth.

Are Dental Inlays And Onlays Painful?

To minimize pain and discomfort during your dental inlay/onlay procedure, your dentist will numb the area around your tooth. Then, they’ll use a thin needle to inject local anesthesia, which takes effect in just a few minutes. Other types of anesthesia may be available if you have dental anxiety. Your dentist may recommend sedation, which helps you relax and remain comfortable during the procedure.

Local anesthesia can take several hours to wear off, and when it does, you may notice some discomfort. To manage pain after an onlay procedure, your dentist may recommend over-the-counter or prescription pain medications.

Dental Onlay vs. Crown

Dental crowns are tooth-shaped caps that cover your whole tooth. Dental onlays only cover the tooth’s chewing surface, which is why they’re sometimes known as partial crowns. These restorations are very similar, and it can be challenging to determine which treatment is required. Your dentist may recommend a crown if your tooth is broken, very worn down, or severely weakened from decay. However, an onlay is a more conservative treatment option and good for a tooth with more remaining structure.

Dental Inlay vs. Filling

Dental inlays are also known as indirect fillings, and they have many similarities with traditional fillings. Both types of fillings can be used to repair damaged or decayed teeth. However, inlays are generally used when the tooth doesn’t have enough structure to support a traditional filling.

Like onlays, dental inlays are more durable than traditional fillings. Traditional fillings can last anywhere from five (5) to fifteen (15) years, while an inlay or onlay can last as long as thirty (30) years. Older inlays or onlays may wear down over time, and they may fall out if tooth decay forms underneath the filling.

How Much Do Dental Inlays And Onlays Cost?

The cost of dental inlays and onlays varies widely. Factors such as where you live and how much your tooth needs to be restored will affect how much you pay. If you have dental insurance, most plans offer at least partial coverage for procedures such as inlays and onlays.

Dental Inlay Cost
For a dental inlay, you can expect to pay around $800 to $1,100, depending on the type of inlay you choose. Composite resin inlays tend to be at the lower end of the dental inlay price range at about $800-900. Average costs for gold inlays are somewhat higher at around $800 to $1,000. Porcelain inlays generally cost about $900 to $1,100.

Dental Onlay Cost
Dental onlays generally cost between about $850 and $1,200. Like inlays, the cost may vary depending on the material your dentist uses. Composite resin onlays are the most affordable type, with average costs ranging from $850 to $1,000. At the higher end of the dental onlay price range are metallic and porcelain onlays, costing around $1,000 to $1,200.

Where Can I Get Inlays And Onlays Near Me?

If you are asking where you can find a trusted dentist near me, the Smile Generation Find a dentist tool makes it easy to find an inlay/onlay dental professional near you. In addition, you can search for dental offices in your city and read reviews left by verified patients.