Inlays and Onlays Are the Steps in Between a Filling and a Crown

Understanding inlays and onlays

What is the difference between an inlay and an onlay?

If you have a tooth that has decay or damage, you may be wondering what options your dentist has to fix your tooth. Is it a filling? An onlay? An inlay? A crown? The team at Parmer Lane Family Dentistry will be able to tell you about each option and explain what might be the best for you and your tooth.

Fillings can repair most minor damage.

A filling is usually the first step in repairing cavities caused by tooth decay. When you get a cavity, your dentist will remove the area of the tooth that has the decay, then fill it to ensure it’s protected. At Parmer Lane Family Dentistry, Dr. Garcia uses tooth-colored fillings, which will match the natural look of your teeth, versus the standard metal dental fillings made of gold, silver, or another metal. A tooth-colored filling is often more durable than a traditional filling because it doesn’t have any metal in it. Over time, metal tends to wear down, which increases the chance of a filling having to be replaced.

Inlays and onlays are a step between a filling and a crown.

An inlay and an onlay are considered a step between a filling and a crown when you are talking about dental work. But what is the difference between the two?


A dental inlay is used for minor tooth restoration to repair a fracture or tooth decay or cavity. An inlay is a pre-molded filling that fits into the grooves of your tooth, and is centered into the tooth. Inlays work best for cavities that have not progressed into extensive tooth decay.

Dental inlays are usually made of porcelain or composite resin, which is crafted to match the color of your natural tooth. Porcelain and composite resin are more durable than a traditional filling, meaning a dental inlay will usually last longer than a traditional filling.


A dental onlay is similar to a dental inlay, except the onlay covers more of the tooth. An onlay fits over the biting surface of your tooth and is often used in cases of advanced tooth decay or injury to the tooth. Onlays are similar to crowns because they both cover the cap of the tooth, but an onlay doesn’t replace the entire tooth like a crown can.

A dental onlay can be made from porcelain, composite resin, or gold, with porcelain being the material designed to best match the color of your natural tooth.

The inlay and onlay process

Whether you’re getting an inlay or an onlay, both treatments start with Dr. Garcia removing the infection from the tooth, and taking a digital impression of your mouth. From there, the impression gets sent to the lab, where the custom inlay or onlay is created. Your tooth will receive temporary protection after the initial impression is taken. Once the inlay or onlay has been created, you’ll come back to see Dr. Garcia, and the inlay or onlay will be cemented into place over the damaged tooth.

What about a crown?

A crown is the next step after a filling, inlay, or onlay. A crown is traditionally used after a person receives a root canal for extensive tooth damage. A crown is a cover that fits fully over the tooth and is sealed in place with dental cement. A dental crown is normally made of porcelain or resin, and can be the same color as your natural teeth.

Catching cavities early is the best way to avoid a filling, inlay, or onlay.

The best way to avoid a procedure involving a filling, inlay, onlay, or crown is by catching a cavity early. When a cavity is small, it can be repaired more easily, meaning less tooth structure will have to be removed to fix the cavity. It’s also important to remember that the enamel on your tooth doesn’t regrow, so keeping up with a proper oral hygiene routine is crucial to limiting cavities.

Remember to brush your teeth at least twice a day for a minimum of two minutes each time. Flossing after brushing your teeth is a way to ensure you are getting any food particles and bacteria from in between your teeth. Many dentists also recommend using a mouthwash to aid in the killing of bacteria.

Visit Parmer Lane Family Dentistry.

While tooth decay is never fun, it’s reassuring to know that modern dentistry has multiple options that can restore your smile back to full health. If you are in need of a filling or something more to repair a cavity, stop in to see Dr. Garcia for a consultation on what repair method is right for you. Book an appointment today and get back to a happy and healthy smile.

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