How Inlays and Onlays Work

close up of teeth

If you have teeth that have been damaged by decay, you are probably familiar with the traditional filling method. With this method, a dentist drills out the decay and then fills the remaining cavity with a moldable substance. In a single office appointment, this substance is molded into place and your tooth is restored. However, did you know that traditional fillings are not your only option for restoring decayed teeth?


In fact, there is an alternative to traditional fillings that offers more durability and a longer lifespan. This alternative is known as indirect fillings, or inlays and onlays. Inlays and onlays are prefabricated tooth restorations made from gold or porcelain that are bonded to the teeth in order to restore them. Inlays are bonded to the grooves of your teeth, while onlays are bonded to the grooves and cusps of your teeth. Once applied, they will protect your teeth for many years and be more resistant against damage.


Inlays and onlays are commonly fabricated from gold or porcelain. Both are strong substances, however gold tends to fare better in terms of durability. However, gold lacks the aesthetic qualities of porcelain. Porcelain can be color matched to your teeth and provides a restoration that is indistinguishable from your natural teeth. The main downfalls of porcelain are that it requires more of your natural tooth to be altered and it can be abrasive to the teeth that sit opposite from it. Dr. Sadati will help you to choose the best material for your individual treatment plan.



dental inlay

Inlays and Onlays vs. Traditional Fillings:

Inlays and onlays, as well as traditional fillings, all function to remove the decayed portion of your tooth and restore the remaining tissue. However, they do so in different ways. Traditional fillings generally require a larger amount of tooth modification and can actually cause the tooth to weaken. Composite resin fillings can also shrink slightly during the hardening process, which can make the restoration less stable. In the deeper or larger cavities, the bonding of direct composite can lack causing failure and more damage to the tooth, which is not the same of inlays and onlays. 


Inlays and onlays, on the other hand, are precisely made for your teeth and can be applied with minimal modification. This preserves your teeth’s natural strength and can help your teeth withstand a stronger chewing force than those treated with traditional fillings. The precise fit also means that the restoration with maintain its durability longer.


Inlay and Onlay Application:


To apply an inlay or onlay, Dr. Sadati will first numb your tooth for your comfort. Then, he will gently remove all the decay to prevent future infections. After removing the decay, he will then digitally scan your tooth. This scan will be sent electronically to a dental laboratory where the permanent restoration will be custom made to fit your tooth. While you wait for your inlay or onlay to be fabricated, you will most likely be given a temporary filling to protect your tooth. Once the final restoration arrives, this temporary filling will be replaced with your inlay or onlay. To place your inlay or onlay, Dr. Sadati will use permanent cement or light-hardening resin to bond the inlay or onlay to your tooth.



dental onlay

The Benefits of Inlays and Onlays vs Crowns:


Inlays and onlays offer a number of benefits. For starters, they provide a strong restoration option that does not require extensive modification of your existing tooth structure. This means that only the decayed parts of your teeth are removed and the healthy structure remains. Keeping your natural tooth structure is highly recommended because it preserves your teeth’s function and keeps them stronger for longer.


Inlays and onlays can also preserve your tooth’s natural color as well. They can be fabricated to match your natural tooth color, which makes them nearly indistinguishable once bonded to your tooth. They are also able to maintain this color for several years and it has been proven that their color lasts longer than tooth-colored resin fillings.


They are also able to fit into tight spaces and are easy to clean. Inlays especially can fit into the tight spaces between teeth and are a better option than a direct composite filling because they effectively seal the tooth from bacteria. Both inlays and onlays are also much easier to clean than other restoration methods such as caps or crowns. Because inlays and onlays are custom made to fit the contours of your tooth, they fit so perfectly that there are little to no spaces for bacteria to accumulate.


On average, can last about 10-30 years, with most lasting about 20 years. With this, there is a significantly less maintenance cost as compared to direct composite fillings.



Dr. Sam S. Sadati is a South Florida Cosmetic Dentist who is passionate about designing healthy, beautiful smiles for his patients. To get your perfect smile, schedule a consultation with Dr. Sadati today! The Sadati Center for Aesthetic Dentistry proudly serves Wellington and the surrounding communities.