Inlays and Onlays

If you’ve ever been to the dentist’s, you likely know all about fillings, crowns and maybe even bridges. What you may not know about is what an inlay or onlay is; how the two are different from each other; why you may want to get either one.

For starters, here’s what the two have in common. Both are hard “caps” that are made in a dental lab based on a mold made by your dentist. Both tend to go on top of your tooth to cover a broken tooth cusp and a fractured molar or pre-molar groove. Both were made from silver amalgam in the past, and mostly from porcelain today.

Here’s what makes each unique – and different from the other options you may be considering.

Inlays vs. Fillings

A filling is a material that’s applied to a break or gap in your tooth to “seal it” from further damage. The problem with a filling is that it starts out soft before a dentist hardens it inside your mouth, meaning it’s hard to replace the external parts of your tooth – like the cusps on your back teeth – this way.

This is where an inlay comes in useful. An inlay does the same job that a filling does, in that it “replaces” a missing tooth part – but unlike a filling, an inlay is made from a hard material. This means it can completely replace the hard outer part of a tooth in function and looks. Most of the time, inlays are used when a tooth cusp is lost.

Sometimes, even an inlay can’t quite get the job done. When this happens, it’s sometimes necessary to get an…


Sometimes, so much of a tooth is decayed or otherwise lost that multiple cusps and tooth walls need to be replaced. When this happens, you and your doctor can choose to get an onlay: a larger hard piece of material that can replace a large piece of dental matter.

Like an inlay, an onlay is pre-made in a dental lab. Unlike an inlay, an onlay can replace most of your tooth. In other words, an inlay tends to go inside your surviving tooth tissue while an onlay goes over it – a little like a partial crown.

Inlay and Onlay Materials

Modern fillings are made from high-grade resin that’s extremely durable and realistic in appearance. Unfortunately, it may never be possible to fully replicate a dental lab-made hard shell within the confines of a dentist’s office – simply because the most durable materials require specialist tools to mold and shape.

For this reason, inlays and onlays give you far more options than you get with fillings. You can choose to go with porcelain or next-gen porcelain replacements that mimic the appearance, function and feel of your natural teeth. You might decide to go with a metal filling for rear teeth that are invisible to others for their durability.

The choice is yours – and if you’d like to learn more about all your options, feel free to call us at (480) 830-5100 and schedule your consultation.

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