The Difference Between Inlays and Onlays

Fixing damaged teeth isn’t just important for your oral health — it’s important for your confidence, too. Inlays and onlays use durable materials and advanced technology to repair teeth that are too damaged for fillings, but not damaged enough to require a more extensive repair, like a crown or root canal.

Hiba Zakhour, DDS, and the team at A to Z Dental Studio offer durable inlays and onlays to repair tooth damage and restore beautiful smiles in patients throughout the Fairfax, Virginia, area. Here’s how inlays and onlays work and how they differ.

Custom restorations with inlays and onlays

Inlays and onlays are used when a tooth has a significant amount of decay or traumatic damage, but not so much that a crown is warranted. They’re also used to replace or repair large, old fillings that have become worn and damaged over time. Because they don’t cover the entire tooth, inlays and onlays are often referred to as “partial crowns.” 

Like crowns, both inlays and onlays help strengthen the tooth’s structure, helping to prevent future damage. These restorations can be made of different materials, depending on your needs and preferences, including:

Both composites and porcelain can be tinted to match the surrounding tooth for a restoration that’s virtually invisible.

Inlays vs. onlays

The primary difference between inlays and onlays is how much of the tooth they restore or replace. 


An inlay is a restoration that’s contained within the boundaries or “points” of the tooth’s chewing surface. In this way, inlays are like traditional fillings, but they’re typically more extensive and more durable than a regular filling. 


Onlays may also be used to repair the chewing portion of a tooth. But unlike an inlay that’s contained within the tooth points or cusps, an onlay extends over the edge of the tooth to include one or more of the points. Onlays preserve more of your natural tooth than a crown, making them a more conservative repair option.

Getting an inlay or onlay

Like crowns, inlay and onlay restorations require two visits. At the first visit, the tooth is numbed, then carefully cleaned and prepared for the restoration. Dr. Zakhour makes an impression of the tooth and sends it to a lab that specializes in custom restorations. You’ll receive a temporary filling to protect the tooth while you wait.

On your second visit, Dr. Zakhour removes the temporary filling and cleans the tooth. The permanent inlay or onlay is placed on your tooth using a strong dental adhesive. Dr. Zakhour adjusts and polishes the restoration for a natural, comfortable fit.

Don’t ignore your damaged tooth

While some dentists limit their restorations to “regular” fillings and crowns, Dr. Zakhour is skilled in an array of options to ensure every patient receives the best and most appropriate care for their needs. To learn how she can tailor a treatment plan just for you, call the office or book an appointment online today.

You Might Also Enjoy...

Does My Child Need Sealants?

Sealants are one more tool your dentist can use to help your child avoid cavities in the future. But does your child really need them? Yes! Here’s why.

Who Can Benefit From a Night Guard?

Night guard: Is it a home security system or a nighttime version of a popular deodorant? Neither! It’s a dental device that can help correct a couple of serious dental issues, so you can enjoy better oral health. Here’s how to tell if you need one.

What To Do When You Lose a Crown or Filling

Losing a crown or filling can be upsetting, but the good news is, it can be fixed. The key is to correct it right away, before tooth damage gets worse. Here’s what you should do if your crown or filling falls out.

Help! My Teeth are Yellow

Yellow teeth can happen to anyone. The good news: Both in-office and at-home whitening treatments can lift away stains and give you a beautiful, dazzling smile. Here’s how our treatments can help transform your smile.

Do I Need Full or Partial Dentures?

If you’re missing teeth, dentures can help restore your bite and your self-confidence. The question is: How can you tell if you need full dentures or partial dentures? Here’s the answer.