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Inlays & Onlays – Materials, Reasons, Aftercare

Excerpt: If the tooth is damaged, or decayed, dentists will often try to save as...
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Inlays & onlays

Inlays & onlays are used to restore the surface of a tooth. They are effective at repairing cavities, damages, and can enhance the strength of your teeth.

If the tooth is damaged, or decayed, dentists will often try to save as much of the original tooth as they can. If the cavity or fracture is on top of the tooth, then an inlay or onlay can be inserted to repair the tooth.

What Are Dental Inlays & Onlays use for

Inlays and onlays are used for a few different purposes, they are either restorative or cosmetic:


  • Repairs/increases resistance to cavities and damage.
  • Change the shape and appearance of the tooth.
  • Very strong and durable, they can last for decades.
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If the cavity or fracture is in the crevice of the tooth then the dentist can use an inlay. An in inlay is meant specifically for the crevices of the tooth and is not meant to cover the surface of the tooth.


As the name suggests, an onlay is meant to “lay on” the surface of the tooth. If the cavity or damage covers more than the crevice of the tooth an onlay is used. If there is any decay or damage to the “cusps” of the teeth an onlay would be the best choice. Onlays are also significantly cheaper than crowns, if the damage or decay is significant enough, an onlay may not be effective, therefor a dentist may recommend a crown.

Inlay/Onlay Materials

Different materials are available for these inserts depending on what’s required of them, and what the patient can afford.


Gold has been used for dental work for thousands of years, it is easy to manipulate, and very durable. Generally, gold is used for less visible teeth like the molars since it stands out easily and does not match the tooth’s color. It’s also an excellent choice for molars as it is one of the strongest, longest-lasting materials dentists use.


  • Durable easy to use
  • Low chance of breaking or fracture
  • Stain-resistant
  • Great for teeth that are not visible


  • Does not match the color of the tooth
  • Expensive

Ceramic (Porcelain)

Porcelain is a very popular dental material to use. It’s very strong, long-lasting, matches the look and feel of the tooth, and is less expensive than gold. Porcelain is a great choice for teeth in the front of the mouth.


  • Strong and long-lasting
  • Aesthetically pleasing
  • Stain-resistant


  • Not as flexible as gold
  • Not as strong as gold

Composite Resin

Composite resin is made out of organic and non-organic materials. They are blended together and cured with a high-powered LED.


Strong and not prone to fractures or breaks
Blends in well with the color of the tooth.


  • Weaker then gold
  • Not stain-resistant

Inlays/Onlays – Procedure

Inlays and onlays have similar procedures, the only main difference is that the onlay covers more surface area than an inlay.

Cavity/Filling Removal 

If there is a cavity, a dentist will need to remove it before they can proceed. If there is a filling already there they will also need to take it out, this may happen to the filling being broken, or the tooth has even more decay or damage than the original filling was meant to fix.

Impression Of The Tooth

Inlays and onlays are custom-made to the patient’s specifications. The dental clinic will make an impression of the tooth so they can make the inlay/onlay fit perfectly, if the material used is porcelain, they will take note of the shade of the tooth so it can be matched.

Temporary Filling

The tooth will be vulnerable between the first appointment and the setting of the permanent filling. A dentist will use a temporary filling to protect your teeth in the meantime. 

Placement Of The Inlay/Onlay

Depending on what type of material you used, there will be a different procedure for placing the filling. You will be given a local anesthetic to numb any pain or discomfort. If you have dental anxiety, you should inform the dentist so they can adjust the amount they use. They also may even decide to use sedation in order to put you at ease. The material will then be bonded in place to your tooth. If you are using a composite material, then it will be cured with a high-powered LED light. If the procedure is done properly, your filling should last decades without significant upkeep. If you feel the filling becomes loose or starts to wiggle, you should immediately contact the dentist and make a follow-up appointment so they can secure it in place. 

If the dentist appointment requires sedation, you should arrange for transportation to and from the dental clinic. Even if you feel fine after the procedure, the sedation effects can make it incredibly unsafe to handle a vehicle or other heavy-equipment

Aftercare Tips

Fillings require minimal aftercare and are fairly easy to keep clean when compared to other dental procedures. You will need to keep up your oral care and remember to focus on the tooth with the filling so it stays clean. You should also refrain from the physical activity without the use of a mouthguard. Older fillings can be knocked out more easily due to the age of the adhesive, a mouthguard will help prevent this. Ideally, you should also eat less sticky food so the filling does not get pulled out by it. If you get a composite resin filling, staying away from food and drinks that stain your teeth is also a good idea since composite resin fillings are not stained-resistant.


Continue with your 6-month check-up routine, your dentist will monitor the health of the filling and will make sure it is secured in place. If you do switch dentists, you should ask for an x-ray and dental record release to the new clinic so the new dentist is aware of all your dental work beforehand.

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