A guide to Onlays and Inlays

Introduction to Inlays and onlays

 A dental inlay is a lot like a filling, with the difference that it rests within the bumps on the tooth chewing surface.  A dental onlay can cover several cusps or bumps, and are larger than inlays.

Inlays or onlays are smaller than crowns, but bigger than fillings. These are made of composite resin, ceramics or gold, and can be bonded into place. They are long lasting, and the duration of their lifespan depends on

  • The teeth that need treatment
  • Materials
  • Chewing pressure
  • The patient’s oral hygiene habits


Dental inlays or onlays are used in the restoration of decayed teeth.

Your dentist will first numb the tooth, as well as the surrounding area using a local anesthetic. Patients may also receive other types of sedation, like nitrous oxide.
Your dentist uses two types of inlays - direct and indirect.

Direct inlays and onlays can be placed in a single visit, and are produced in the dentist's clinic.
Indirect inlays and onlays take up to two visits for placement, and these are made in a dental laboratory.

Your dentist will use one of these two types depending on the appearance of the inlays or onlays, as well as the amount of tooth that is left undamaged.

Direct inlays and onlays
Here, the decay is removed, and tooth is shaped. Your dentist will then place composite resin that is molded to fit the tooth. He will then remove the inlay, and use a special oven to harden it. The hardened inlay will be cemented onto the tooth. After that, the inlay is polished and shaped by the dentist. Modern technology allows dentists to make ceramic inlays or onlays right in the clinic, with placement finished in a single visit

Indirect inlays and onlays
Here, the decay will be removed, and then an impression will be made of the tooth to be treated, as well as the surrounding teeth.  Your dentist will place a temporary filling on the tooth, and will send the impression to the laboratory, where the inlay or onlay will be made.

When you visit the dentist's office for the second time, the temporary filling will be removed, and the teeth will be cleaned.  The inlay or onlay will be cemented to the tooth, and then polished. After this, the inlay or onlay may be reshaped to adjust to fit your teeth

Follow up
There is no special care required with your inlay or onlay.
Remember to brush and floss daily, and schedule a visit to your dentist regularly

There is a risk that the inlay or onlay can loosen. This happens when the cement gets washed away, or saliva gets mixed up with it during application.
In case of inlays or onlays that are made of porcelain or composite resin, cracks can develop.
Once you receive an inlay or onlay, check the sensitivity of the teeth, and contact your dentist if sensitivity persists. Also, visit your dentist if the inlay or onlay loosens or falls out of the tooth.