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Dental Inlays and Onlays

Dental Inlays and Onlays

If you are concerned about the appearance of your old fillings, new tooth-colored treatments can restore and transform your teeth. Silver and gold fillings are a thing of the past as cosmetic treatments such as inlays and onlays are a new and effective treatment. Inlays and onlays are similar to traditional fillings as they fit inside the tooth where a cavity once was and seal it. The signifying difference is that they come in a variety of tooth-colored materials for an enhanced, more uniform smile.

As most inlay and onlay treatments replace old fillings, the cavity has already been removed and filled. This makes treatment easier, faster, and generally pain-free. Inlays and onlays provide a more sustainable treatment and a natural-looking smile.

Inlays and onlays are available at Desert Bloom Dentistry in Safford and the surrounding area. Our staff can help you determine whether this treatment is right for you. Call us at (928) 428-1617 to schedule an appointment.

What are Inlays and Onlays?


Traditionally, inlays replace a small amount of tooth structure left by a cavity, just as fillings do. They filled and sealed the tooth but were made only of gold. Inlays today are made of tooth-colored material such as ceramic, porcelain, or a specialized dental composite.

The inlay consists of the tooth-colored material and bonding, a clear fluid material, to attach the inlay to the tooth. As explained by the American College of Prosthodontists, “Using a clear fluid version of this material to seal the exposed surfaces of the teeth decreases sensitivity to temperature changes and certain types of foods.” The bonding material is also tooth-colored and may help improve the color and appearance of stained or discolored teeth.


Onlays are similar to inlays in that they fill a missing hole caused by a cavity, but onlays extend onto the chewing surface of a tooth to replace one or more cusps. Traditionally, they were also only made of gold, but tooth-colored onlays have made an appearance in dentistry. An onlay is considered a more effective option for patients with large cavities or when the decayed area expands over the top of the tooth.

The process of inlays and onlays both involve bonding material to attach and seal it to the tooth. In both treatments, the bonding material may actually improve the strength of the tooth.

An onlay is considered a more effective option for patients who have large cavities or the decayed area expands over the top of the tooth.

Inlay or Filling

Inlays are a cosmetic treatment that can replace old fillings. Increasingly, patients have had the option to choose between a filling or inlay when treating a cavity. We use an impression of the cavity in question to ensure the inlay is the exact size and shape, as opposed to other options that may weaken the tooth. In this way, the cemented inlay strengthens the tooth rather than weakening it.

As inlays become more popular because of their appearance, fillings are hardly ever requested. However, a dentist may resort to a filling for cases in which the patient is allergic to the inlay material used. In many cases, special dental material can be used as an inlay to provide the patient with the highest level of comfort.

Inlays are formulated using an impression of the cavity and are fabricated to the exact size and shape of the cavity as opposed to being filled in.

Onlay vs. Crown

An onlay is generally used when a patient has a small hole that is only a tad larger than an inlay or old filling. In most cases, an onlay can cover the cavity hole and surrounding area. Onlays are a less aggressive restoration treatment than crowns, as a smaller amount of tooth structure needs to be removed.

On the other hand, crowns are caps or covers used to restore the function and appearance of a tooth but replace the tooth itself. According to the article on caps and crowns, “Crowns are indicated for teeth with very large fillings, teeth that have had a root canal, fractured teeth, worn teeth due to grinding, and misshapen and/or discolored teeth.” The key distinguishing factor a dentist will use to determine the right choice for a patient is the size of the cavity.

The key distinguishing factor a dentist will use to determine the right choice for a patient is the size of the cavity.

Benefits of Inlays and Onlays


The key benefits of inlays lie in their durability and strength. They are intended to protect and seal the tooth from further damage using cemented material custom-fit to each tooth. The sealed inlays also protect the tooth from air and food particles from entering the tooth, which cause a sensitive sensation. Before an inlay treatment, the dentist removes all bacteria from inside the tooth and throughout the hole, attaining a higher level of oral hygiene. Inlays are more stable and stay in your tooth for much longer than a filling with proper oral care.


Onlays have many of the same benefits as inlays. An added benefit to onlays is they can save much of the patient’s tooth structure and provide additional strength and support for the affected tooth. Crowns require treatment and typically involve removing the entire tooth or, at minimum, much of the tooth structure. Onlays are also custom-fit for each patient and use stain-resistant material, making them last much longer without affecting appearance.

Before an inlay treatment, the dentist removes all bacteria from inside the tooth and throughout the hole, attaining a higher level of oral hygiene.

Differences Between Inlays, Onlays, and Veneers

Veneers are customized coverings placed over the front part of the teeth. They are not meant to protect or treat the teeth and will not provide coverage against damage or decay. Before placing in the veneer, the dentist shaves down most of the tooth to make room for the full tooth-sized veneer. Since veneers are irreversible, if one becomes chipped or broken, the patient will have a cracked or missing tooth until it is corrected.

Inlays and onlays do much more to save the teeth and protect against further damage with protective, specialized dental material. Once an inlay or onlay fills the tooth, the gaping hole and surrounding area are sealed, making it easier to maintain oral health and prevent future decay. Veneers are cosmetic appliances used primarily to cover up damaged and decayed teeth, much like crowns and caps.

Frequently Asked Questions about Inlays and Onlays

Q. Does insurance cover inlays and onlays?

A. Inlays and onlays are considered specialty cosmetic treatments. Patients should speak with their insurance provider to understand coverage regarding these treatments before initiating a consultation.

Q. Can inlays and onlays break or fall off?

A. As with fillings, poor oral hygiene and maintenance can cause an inlay or onlay to break or fall off. Although they are much more durable, patients should take the necessary measures to maintain the quality of the inlay or onlay. The dentist will instruct the patient on how to care for their teeth going forward after their treatment.

Q. Is it safe to remove all of my fillings and replace them with inlays?

A. In most cases, yes. Inlays have essentially the same function as fillings in that they “fill in” a hole left by a cavity, but they are much more durable and are tooth-colored. However, in some cases, the cavity or hole is too large and may cause bleeding, in which case the dentist will likely recommend an onlay or crown.

Q. Do inlays and onlays require additional care?

A. Inlays and onlays are long-lasting restorations and are meant to last. They do not need specific care but regular maintenance, as with the rest of your teeth. Oral hygienic habits, such as proper brushing twice a day, flossing, rinsing, and regular dental check-ups and cleanings, should keep your inlays and onlays intact and well-kept.

Q. Is there anything I cannot eat or drink after inlay/onlay treatment?

A. As with temporary fillings, patients should avoid sticky or hard foods that could damage or break a temporary inlay or onlay. Once the permanent is placed in, you may resume normal eating, drinking, brushing, and flossing. Inlays and onlays are made to be as close to your natural teeth as possible and should not affect your eating or drinking habits.

Quality Dental Services Can Transform Your Smile

By visiting us as soon as possible, our team can help get you the professional treatment you need. Instead of waiting around and allowing the symptoms to get worse, we can provide you with treatment options.

Dental Terminology

Dental Caries

Dental caries are also known as cavities and result from a lack of proper oral hygiene leaving plaque that forms tiny holes in the teeth.

Dental Checkup

A dental checkup is an appointment that involves cleaning the teeth, identifying any signs of infection, and removing said signs of infection at least once every six months in the office.

Dental Crown

A crown is an artificial tooth, usually consisting of porcelain, which covers the top of the implant to provide people with an aesthetically pleasing and fully functional tooth.

Dental Filling

A dental filling involves restoring the structure of the tooth by using metal, alloy, porcelain or plastic to fill the tooth.

Dental Inlay

A dental inlay is a filling created outside of the mouth to restore a tooth affected by a cavity in the center but not around the cusps.

Dental Onlay

A dental onlay is a filling created outside of the mouth that overlays the tooth’s cusps but not the entire external surface to restore damage from a cavity.


A dentist, also known as a dental surgeon, is a doctor who specializes in the diagnosis, prevention, and treatment of diseases and conditions of the oral cavity.

Oral Hygiene

Oral hygiene is the practice of maintaining the cleanliness of the mouth, teeth, and gums through brushing, flossing, and regular dental appointments.

Root Canal

The chamber within the root of the tooth contains the pulp.

Tooth Enamel

Tooth enamel is the protective, visible outer surface of a tooth that contains the dentin and dental pulp.

Call Us Today

If you have a chipped tooth, do not panic. Our team at Desert Bloom Dentistry can help restore a chipped tooth’s function and appearance. Call us today at 928-428-1617 to learn more about our services or schedule an appointment.

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1475 S 20th Ave

Safford, AZ 85546

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