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What Are Dental Inlays & Onlays?

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What Are Dental Inlays & Onlays?

Your teeth are an integral part of your day-to-day life. From smiling to eating, strong teeth make life better. When your teeth cause you discomfort, it’s hard to focus on anything else.

Dental inlays and onlays are a form of dental restoration that can help you look, and feel your absolute best. 

Inlays & Onlays vs. Fillings vs. Crowns

Dental inlays and onlays, also referred to as indirect fillings, are aesthetically appealing options for patients with substantial tooth decay or damage.

Inlays are used to repair damage in the center of the tooth. Onlays are used to repair damage that extends from the center of the tooth to the outer cusps (pointed edges of your teeth). 

Both inlays and onlays can be made in tooth-coloured composite resin, porcelain, or gold. Since inlays and onlays can closely match your natural tooth colour, it’s nearly impossible to see them. 

With proper care, inlays and onlays can support your teeth for many years. 


Like inlays and onlays, fillings are used to treat cavities and repair tooth decay. 

Fillings are the most basic dental restoration method and are used for minimal damage to the tooth. Fillings can be made in gold, silver amalgam, composite resin, or porcelain. 

Unlike inlays and onlays, fillings are applied in one appointment using a high-intensity light. 

The first layer of tooth-coloured resin is applied and hardened under the light. This layer helps insulate your tooth to make eating and drinking comfortable. Then, your dentist molds the material to the contour of your tooth. Lastly, your dentist will polish the tooth to prevent wear and staining.   


Crowns, also referred to as caps, are a dental restoration method that uses custom-fitted material to repair more extreme tooth decay. Crowns are used when tooth decay extends from the center of the tooth to most or all of the tooth cusps.

Similar to inlays and onlays, crowns first require an impression of your teeth to create the custom-fitted caps in a lab. Once the caps are ready, a second appointment is made to fit the crowns to your teeth.

Since crowns are custom-made, they can be nearly indistinguishable from your real teeth. With proper care, your crowns can last many years. 

How Are Inlays & Onlays Applied?

Dental inlays and onlays are typically used when teeth are too damaged for a filling but don’t yet require a crown. Generally, getting inlays or onlays requires 2 appointments.

During your first appointment, your dentist will take an impression of the damaged teeth to send to the lab. Your dentist will also clear out any decay or previous fillings to prepare your teeth for your second appointment.

In your second appointment, your dentist will set the inlay or onlay on your affected teeth and use a special bonding material for long-term stability.  

It’s best to be prepared for 2 appointments as your inlays or onlays will have to be custom made in a lab to fit your teeth, a process that usually requires a bit more time. 

What’s Right For Me?

Inlays and onlays offer a lot of benefits for patients with tooth decay. Some of these benefits include:

  • Extra strength & support for your teeth
  • Increased longevity (with proper care)
  • Better preservation of natural teeth
  • Close colour match to natural teeth
  • Repair for any failed fillings

Fillings can be a good fix in the beginning, but many patients report sensitivity in the affected tooth. Studies also show that fillings don’t improve the strength of a tooth. 

Your dentist can help you determine the best course of treatment for your teeth.

When to See Your Dentist

If you experience any heightened sensitivity, discomfort, or pain when you eat or drink, book an appointment with your dentist. Our team is happy to answer any questions you may have and ensure you get the right treatment for your teeth.

Written by Dr. Kostas Papadopoulos

Dr. Kostas Papadopoulos received his Doctor of Dental Surgery degree from the University of Toronto in 1992 after completing 3 years of biochemistry and the 4-year program in dentistry. He enjoys continuing education and has attended numerous rehabilitative and cosmetic dentistry programs, including courses taught by Dr. John Kois.

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