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Dental inlay, dental onlay vs filling

author icon By Dr. George Ghidrai

When a tooth is too damaged to support a traditional filling but not damaged enough for a dental crown, you end up somewhere in the middle :

Inlays and onlays are often used in place of traditional dental fillings to treat tooth decay or similar structural damage.

Whereas dental fillings are molded into place within the mouth during a dental visit, inlays and onlays are fabricated indirectly in a dental lab before being fitted and bonded to the damaged tooth by the dentist.

dental inlay dental onlay

What is the difference between an inlay and an onlay ?

There is not a big difference between dental inlays and dental onlays :


Inlays and onlays can be made from gold, porcelain or composite resin materials.

Gold and porcelain inlays are much more expensive.


Typically, an inlay or onlay procedure is completed in two dental visits. During the first appointment, the dentist prepares the tooth by removing any tooth decay.

Once the tooth is prepared, an impression is made of the tooth's structure and then sent to a dental laboratory, where the inlay or onlay is fabricated.

The dentist may place a temporary dental filling to preserve the tooth. During the second dental visit, the temporary filling is removed and the inlay or onlay is fitted and cemented onto the tooth.



Last review and update: November 2020

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