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.

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