What Are Dental Onlays & Inlays & Do You Need Them? (Pros & Cons)

BY Dr. McDowell  |  October 12th, 2021
Dr. McDowell
Dr. McDowell has always been focused on using the latest technology to improve the patient experience. From radiation-free imaging to laser dentistry, he has always been ahead of the curve and is dedicated to improving the practice of dentistry one ..

If you’re reading this, then your dentist may have approached you to talk about your need for dental inlays or onlays. But if you’ve never needed anything like this before, then you probably don’t know the difference.

Before you receive any dental treatment, it’s probably good that you know more about what it is and how it will impact your oral health. At Wayzata Dental we want to empower all of our patients to understand what goes into dental care.

Dental Inlays 101

dental inlays

An inlay is a small custom-made piece of tooth-shaped material that your dentist uses to replace the lost surface of a tooth. The procedure for inlays is fairly simple, with the old tooth being cleaned and prepped and then the inlay being glued or fused to that surface.

There are two types of inlays: direct and indirect inlays. With both, there’s no need for cutting or grinding because they fit right over existing teeth. It can be attached either in a dental lab in your dentist’s office or in the same appointment.

Indirect inlays are meant to be used when there is too much damage to the tooth for it to support a direct inlay. Indirect inlays require additional material for support on either side of the damaged part of the tooth. Then, the inlay gets glued in place on top of these two pieces.

Direct inlays are the more common form and require less tooth prep, meaning they can be a better option for your natural teeth. In addition, direct inlays have an etched surface that matches the shape of existing enamel to help it stay in place when bonded with dental adhesive or inlays cement.

How Long do Inlays Last?

On average, inlays last around 15 years, but can last as long as 30 years or more in some cases. When you’re considering inlays, be careful not to shy too far from the more expensive materials. Spending a little more upfront will mean you’ll get a longer life out of them.

What are Inlays Made Of?

Inlays are made in a lab and can be crafted in porcelain, gold, or metal. Porcelain inlays have the longest lifespan and are in the middle in terms of cost. Gold inlays also have a long lifespan, but they’re more expensive than porcelain inlays. On the other hand, metal inlays are far less expensive than porcelain or gold inlays and can be a good option in cases where you want to use inlays but don’t have the money for porcelain or gold inlays.

How Much do Inlays Cost?

An inlay is a custom-made, so it’s usually more expensive than a filling would be, but in the long run, it will be less costly because of how durable they are and that your dentist won’t have to make any additional repairs or replacements over a long span of time.

You can expect to pay somewhere around $500 – $2,000 for a dental inlay.

Dental Onlays 101

dental onlays

Dental onlays are in many ways similar to dental inlays, except for the fact that they’re bigger and made differently. In addition, onlays are designed to cover an entire tooth, whereas inlays only cover a portion.

Onlays are used specifically for decay and damage to the cusps of a tooth as well as the biting areas. Your dental provider will often choose onlays when the damaged area is too great for the use of a standard filling. Think of onlays as the step before needing anything more invasive like a root canal.

The tooth is similarly prepped for onlays as with inlays. But there is often a temporary onlay used to place over the damaged area until an onlay can be made for your specific tooth. Onlays can also be known as partial crowns.

How Long do Onlays Last?

Onlays have a shorter lifespan than inlays because attaching them to the teeth can be more difficult, and they receive a lot more wear and tear. You can expect an average of 10-15 years out of your onlays. Sometimes you may be able to get more life out of them with proper care and maintenance

What are Onlays Made Of?

Onlays are essentially made of the same materials as inlays: porcelain, composite, resin, or gold (although gold is a very uncommon choice these days).

How Much do Onlays Cost?

You can expect to pay around $900 for the average onlay. If you have dental insurance, you might be able to get it for a bit cheaper, and if you don’t have insurance, try to find a dentist that can work with you to get a better price. Out of pocket, dental payments can be expensive.

Inlays vs. Onlays

dental inlays vs. onlays

The biggest difference between inlays and onlays is the amount of surface area that they cover in the mouth. Inlays are the smaller of the two and onlays can be quite a bit larger, sometimes covering half or 3/4s of your tooth.. For that reason, onlays may seem like a more extensive procedure.

Many dentists will prefer onlays over crowns because they’re less invasive while still providing a lot of protection for that tooth. Unfortunately, not all dentists agree with this because it can sometimes be harder to provide onlays than it is to provide crowns. You should prefer an onlay because onlays allow the majority of your tooth to stay in place.

Inlays come up against fillings but offer a better and more long-term approach because they cover a larger area more easily. Inlays help to strengthen the tooth, whereas fillings can sometimes weaken it when the filling material expands.

Pros and Cons of Inlays and Onlays

There are definitely a few pros and cons of inlays and onlays. While we like to say there are far more pros than cons, you can expect that there are still some downsides.



Inlays and Onlays vs. Crowns and Fillings

The operations or treatments that inlays and onlays would be done in place of are crowns and fillings. Inlays are most often done in place of fillings and onlays in place of crowns.

dental fills and crowns

Onlays vs. Crowns

For onlays to be done in place of a crown, you will most often need less tooth structure removed than what would otherwise be removed for crowns. That means inlays and onlays are less invasive.

Crowns can last longer but, in many cases, will require a root canal in order to do so. The biggest difference between onlays and crowns is that crowns cover a significantly larger area of your tooth. Onlays won’t cover quite as significant of an area, but they do provide better protection overall.

Inlays vs. Fillings

Fillings, in most cases, can be done in one visit. It’s a simple procedure, and it doesn’t take too much time. That’s not always the case with inlays. Sometimes inlays will require a second appointment at the dental office, but other times it can also be done in one visit.

Inlays will almost always last significantly longer than fillings, making them a better choice in that regard.

If you’re interested in learning more about inlay or onlay treatments for your teeth from a local non-invasive dental provider. Our team at Wayzata Dental is here to help you. We offer some of the best in class dental care in all of the Twin Cities.

Reach out to us today with any of the questions you have about inlays or onlays, and we’ll answer them. You can also schedule an appointment today or check out the rest of our blog for more dental information.

Dr. McDowell
Dr. McDowell has always been focused on using the latest technology to improve the patient experience. From radiation-free imaging to laser dentistry, he has always been ahead of the curve and is dedicated to improving the practice of dentistry one ..