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Discover what inlays and onlays are and how they can support your oral health.

Dental problems like tooth decay and chipped teeth are common conditions, but fortunately there are simple treatments that can restore your teeth to their optimal shape. Dental treatments like inlays and onlays are a great solution to fixing teeth with fewer issues rather than resorting to full dental crowns.

How do you know what type of restoration is going to work for you? The best thing you can do for yourself is learn the differences between both types of dental treatments and discuss your needs and concerns with your dentist in Boise, ID.

What are inlays?

Dental inlays are custom, laboratory-made restorations that mimic your natural tooth. They are composed from composite, porcelain, or ceramic depending on your dental needs, esthetics, and budget.

An inlay is an in-between type of restoration for when your tooth may need a restoration that is larger than a filling, but not necessarily as large as a crown. Inlays are a better option than a dental filling because they help strengthen the tooth using materials like porcelain or ceramic, whereas fillings can weaken much more quickly over time.

A dental inlay is a common restoration for many conditions including:

What are onlays?

Dental onlays are similar to an inlay but they cover a larger portion of the tooth. They are composed of composite, porcelain, or ceramic and are often known as a partial crown.

Onlays are a great option for people who want a conservative dental treatment to restore their tooth, and do not want full coverage crowns.

A dental onlay is recommended when a tooth has larger areas of decay that cover one or more cusps. They are also great treatment options for people with traumatized, cracked, or chipped teeth.

What is the difference between an inlay and onlay?

An inlay and onlay serve the same function in restoring teeth and are both considered conservative treatment options, but there are a few notable differences between them.

An inlay is a restoration that is placed between the cusps of a tooth, while an onlay covers a larger portion of the tooth including cusps and exterior of the tooth. An onlay provides greater coverage and stability than an inlay, but also requires more tooth preparation.

An inlay is typically less expensive than an onlay because it requires less material and less tooth preparation.

Onlays typically have a shorter lifespan than an inlay because they cover more surface area and experience more wear and tear. An inlay can last up to 30 years with good oral care, while the lifespan of an onlay is around 10 to 15 years.

The repair process for both an inlay and onlay is similar:

  1. The dentist will remove any damaged part of the tooth and prepare it for an onlay or inlay.
  2. A digital or putty impression is taken to create a model of the tooth, which is sent to the laboratory to be custom fabricated. The shade and type of material can be chosen at this visit.
  3. Once made, the dentist will permanently cement the dental inlay or onlay and adjust the occlusion.

Inlay/Onlay vs Crowns

When you hear your tooth needs a crown, you immediately think of full coverage and shaving your tooth down to make room for a complete crown. However, inlays and onlays are great, conservative options that avoid extensive tooth reduction. Both help strengthen a tooth without being an invasive treatment, like dental crowns. Dental inlays and dental onlays are less expensive than crowns because they require less tooth preparation and less laboratory materials.

A dental crown is more beneficial if most of your tooth is fractured or you need root canal therapy, because that full coverage tends to last longer and provide more support than an inlay or onlay. A crown also has a greater lifespan if the gums and support structure of the tooth is healthy. This is because constant chewing forces can cause wear and tear on an inlay or onlay after several years while a crown can last 10 to 15 years with good care.

The Final Verdict

Both inlays and onlays are good, minimally invasive dental treatments for restoring and strengthening teeth. If you have a compromised tooth from decay or trauma, like chipped teeth, consider a dental inlay or onlay. The best way to decide which option is right for you is to book a consultation with your dentist. They are experts in determining the optimal treatment to preserve and restore your oral health. If you’re looking for a dentist in the Boise, ID, area, we’d love to see you for an appointment.