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What are dental inlays and onlays?

Dental Inlays and Onlays

Dental inlays and onlays are gold, composite, or porcelain materials used to repair moderately damaged or decayed teeth. Dentists use dental inlays and onlays to restore a tooth that is too damaged to repair with a filling but not damaged enough to need a crown. Dental inlays and onlays save the healthy portion of an injured tooth and provide strength and stability for normal chewing.  

A dental inlay is placed in the center area of the tooth. A dental onlay is placed on the inside and outside areas, or points, of a tooth. Dental inlays and onlays are also called indirect fillings or partial crowns. They are a less aggressive and usually less expensive treatment option than full crowns.

Placing a dental inlay or onlay is generally considered safe, but there are risks and potential complications. It is only one method used to repair damaged or decayed teeth. Discuss all of your options with your dentist to understand which options are right for you.

Types of dental inlays and onlays

Dental inlays and onlays can be made of the following materials:

  • Composites (resins) include powdered glass-like material and acrylics. Composite inlays and onlays are more cosmetically pleasing than metal because they match the tooth’s color.
  • Metal, typically gold, but other metals may be used as well. Dentists may use metal inlays or onlays in back teeth, or molars, because of metal’s strength and durability. Today, gold is used less often than in the past because it is less cosmetically pleasing than other types of inlays and onlays.
  • Porcelain matches the tooth’s color.
Medical Reviewers: Nicole Holland DDS, MS Last Review Date: Mar 4, 2013

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Medical References

  1. Cavities. Mouth Healthy by the American Dental Association. http://www.mouthhealthy.org/en/az-topics/c/cavities.aspx. Accessed December 14, 2012.
  2. Crowns. Mouth Healthy by the American Dental Association. http://www.mouthhealthy.org/en/az-topics/c/Crowns.aspx. Accessed December 14, 2012.
  3. Dental Onlays. 1-800-Dentist. http://www.1800dentist.com/dental-onlays/. Accessed December 14, 2012.
  4. Inlays and Onlays: The Indirect Filling Options. Consumer Guide to Dentistry. http://www.yourdentistryguide.com/inlays-and-onlays/. Accessed December 14, 2012.
  5. What are Inlays and Onlays? Health Development Advice. http://www.hda-online.org.uk/dentistry/inlays-onlays/index.html. Accessed December 14, 2012.

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