Advantages & Disadvantages of Dental Inlays and Onlays


When it comes to restoring damaged or decayed teeth, dental inlays and onlays are often overlooked but highly effective options. These restorative dental procedures offer a conservative approach to preserving tooth structure while providing durable and aesthetically pleasing results.  

Let's learn more about dental inlays and onlays to understand their differences, procedures, materials, candidacy, advantages, disadvantages, aftercare, and costs. 

What are Dental Inlays and Onlays? 

Dental Inlays: Inlays are custom-made filling restorations designed to fit into the grooves (cusps) of a tooth. They are suitable when the damage or decay is confined within the cusps and doesn't extend to the tooth's outer surface (cusp tips). 

Dental Onlays: Onlays, also known as partial crowns, cover a larger portion of the tooth surface than inlays. They can extend over one or more cusps and are suitable when the damage or decay is more extensive but don't require a full dental crown. 

Procedure for Dental Inlays and Onlays 

  • Diagnosis and Treatment Planning: Your dentist will examine your tooth and take X-rays to assess the extent of damage or decay. Based on this evaluation, they will determine if an inlay or onlay is appropriate.
  • Tooth Preparation: The affected tooth is numbed with local anesthesia to ensure comfort during the procedure. The dentist then removes the damaged or decayed portion of the tooth, creating a clean and stable foundation for the inlay or onlay.  
  • Impression Taking: An impression or digital scan of the prepared tooth goes to a dental laboratory to create a custom-fit restoration.
  • Temporary Restoration: During the fabrication process of your permanent restoration in a dental laboratory, a temporary restoration is placed to protect the tooth. 
  • Final Placement: Once the inlay or onlay is ready, which usually takes a few days to a week, you return to the dentist for placement. The restoration is bonded to the tooth using dental adhesive, ensuring a solid and durable bond. 

Materials Used in Dental Inlays and Onlays 

  • Composite Resin: This tooth-colored material is made from a blend of plastic and glass. It is a popular choice for inlays and onlays in visible areas of the mouth due to its ability to blend seamlessly with natural teeth. Composite resin inlays are also versatile and easily reparable in case of damage.  
  • Porcelain/Ceramic: These materials are highly aesthetic and closely mimic the natural appearance of teeth. Porcelain or ceramic inlays and onlays are stain-resistant and durable, making them suitable for both front and back teeth. They are custom-made in a dental laboratory to ensure a precise fit and optimal aesthetics. 
  • Metal Alloys: Commonly used metal alloys include gold and silver amalgam. While metal inlays and onlays are highly durable and long-lasting, they are more noticeable in the mouth due to their metallic color. They best suit back teeth (molars) with higher chewing forces. 

The choice of material depends on various factors such as the location of the tooth, aesthetic preferences, budget considerations, and the dentist's recommendation based on the patient's specific needs. 

Who Benefits from Dental Inlays and Onlays? 

  • Moderate Tooth Decay: When a tooth has moderate decay that extends beyond what a traditional dental filling can effectively restore, an inlay or onlay provides a stronger and more durable solution.
  • Fractured or Broken Teeth: Teeth that are fractured or have minor cracks can be restored with inlays or onlays, preserving the remaining tooth structure and preventing further damage. 
  • Large Fillings Replacement: If an existing large filling needs to be replaced due to wear, decay, or fracture, an inlay or onlay offers a conservative yet effective alternative to a full dental crown. 
  • Desire for Conservative Restoration: Inlays and onlays benefit patients who prefer to preserve more natural tooth structures while still achieving a functional and aesthetically pleasing restoration. 

Which One is Better? Dental Inlays/Onlays vs. Dental Fillings 

To provide a comprehensive view, let's compare the performance of dental inlays and onlays with traditional dental fillings, particularly composite fillings. 

1. Durability and Strength 

Dental Fillings: Composite fillings are directly placed into the cavity and bonded to the tooth. While they are durable and can withstand regular chewing forces, they may not be as strong as inlays or onlays, especially for more extensive restorations. 

Dental Inlays/Onlays: Inlays and onlays, custom-made restorations fabricated in a dental laboratory, are typically constructed from stronger materials such as porcelain, ceramic, or metal alloys. It increases durability and strength, making them suitable for larger cavities or areas of moderate-to-heavy chewing forces. 

2. Conservation of Tooth Structure 

Dental Fillings: Composite fillings require the removal of decayed or damaged tooth structure and additional healthy tooth structure to create retention for the filling material. It can lead to a compromise in tooth strength over time, especially with larger fillings. 

Dental Inlays/Onlays: In contrast, inlays and onlays are designed to conserve as much healthy tooth structure as possible. They are placed within the prepared cavity without extensive removal of healthy enamel or dentin, preserving the tooth's natural strength. 

3. Aesthetics 

Dental Fillings: Composite fillings are tooth-colored and blend well with natural teeth, providing pleasing aesthetics, especially for front teeth restorations. 

Dental Inlays/Onlays: Similarly, inlays and onlays can be made from tooth-colored materials such as porcelain or composite resin, ensuring a seamless blend with surrounding teeth for excellent aesthetics. 

4. Longevity 

Dental Fillings (Composite): Composite fillings have a good lifespan and can last several years with proper care. However, they may require periodic maintenance or replacement due to wear, chipping, or staining, especially for larger fillings. 

Dental Inlays/Onlays: Due to their superior strength and durability, inlays and onlays often outlast composite fillings, particularly in areas of heavy chewing forces or larger restorations. They can provide long-term functionality and aesthetics with proper care and regular dental check-ups. 

Dental and onlays preserve natural tooth structure, providing superior strength and longevity, especially for larger restorations or areas with heavy chewing forces. When fabricated from tooth-colored materials, they also offer excellent aesthetics. 

Your dentist will consider various factors, including the size and location of the restoration, aesthetic preferences, and functional requirements, to determine the most appropriate treatment option for your specific dental needs. Regular dental check-ups and good oral hygiene practices are essential for maintaining the longevity and performance of any dental restoration.

Advantages and Disadvantages of Dental Inlays and Onlays 


  • Conservative Approach: Inlays and onlays require minimal removal of healthy tooth structure compared to dental crowns, preserving more of the natural tooth. 
  • Durability: They are durable and withstand regular chewing forces, providing long-lasting restoration. 
  • Aesthetics: Tooth-colored materials (like composite resin and porcelain) blend seamlessly with natural teeth, enhancing smile aesthetics. 
  • Custom Fit: Each restoration is custom-made to fit the specific dimensions of the prepared tooth, ensuring a precise and comfortable fit. 


  • Cost: Inlays and onlays are typically more expensive than traditional fillings due to custom-fabricated materials and laboratory work. 
  • Multiple Visits: The procedure requires at least two dental visits (initial preparation and placement of the final restoration), which may be inconvenient for some patients. 
  • Material Limitations: The choice of material may impact the cost and aesthetic outcome, and some materials may be more prone to wear or staining over time. vantages 

Aftercare for Dental Inlays and Onlays 

  • Good Oral Hygiene: Brush and floss regularly to maintain oral hygiene and prevent plaque buildup around the restoration. 
  • Regular Dental Check-ups: Visit your dentist for routine check-ups and professional cleanings to monitor the condition of the restoration and overall oral health. 
  • Avoid Excessive Force: Avoid biting hard objects or using your teeth for non-food items to prevent damage to the restoration. 
  • Follow the Dentist's Recommendations: Your dentist may provide specific instructions tailored to your case for optimal care and longevity of the inlay or onlay. 

Cost Considerations 

The cost of dental inlays and onlays varies widely based on factors such as: 

  • Material Choice: Different materials have varying costs, with porcelain/ceramic options typically being more expensive than composite resin or metal alloys. 
  • The complexity of the Restoration: The size, location, and extent of damage or decay influence the complexity of the restoration, affecting the overall cost. 
  • Geographic Location: Dental fees can vary based on the region or city where the treatment is available.
  • Dental Provider's Fees: Experienced and specialized dental professionals may charge higher fees for their services. 

While the initial cost of inlays and onlays may be higher than traditional fillings, their durability and conservative approach often make them a cost-effective long-term investment in maintaining dental health and function. 

Final Thoughts 

In summary, dental inlays and onlays offer a balanced approach to tooth restoration, combining durability and aesthetics while preserving natural tooth structure. They are ideal for addressing moderate dental issues and ensuring long-term oral health.  

If you're dealing with decay, fractures, or large fillings, consider discussing the benefits of inlays and onlays with your dentist for a personalized treatment plan. Don't hesitate to schedule a consultation today to explore how these advanced techniques can enhance your smile and dental wellness. 

Contact your dentist in Walnut Creek, Dr. Darvishzadeh at Walnut Creek Dental today for more information about dental inlays and onlays.


Dental Inlays And Onlays – What Is The Difference?

*Neither this nor any other content in this media is meant to prescribe, recommend, or prevent any treatment or procedure. We highly recommend that you get the advice of a qualified dentist or other medical practitioners regarding your specific dental condition

Share This Post

Subscribe To Our Newsletter

Get Updates And Learn From The Best

Make an appointment

Complete the form and we will send you a confirmation within 24 hours.

Or Call US (925) 939-3421

Operating Hours

Monday - Friday

08:00 - 17:00