Dentists |13 min read

Understanding Inlays and Onlays: Precision Dentistry at North Pointe Dental

When it comes to preserving and enhancing your smile, modern dentistry offers a range of solutions tailored to individual needs. Among these, inlays and onlays stand out as two of the most precise and effective treatments for restoring teeth. Often overshadowed by more commonly discussed procedures like fillings or crowns, inlays and onlays play a vital role in dental restoration, especially here at North Pointe Dental.

In this comprehensive guide, we’ll delve into the world of inlays and onlays—exploring their differences, similarities, and specific uses. We’ll also shed light on how these procedures unfold and highlight the meticulous approach taken by the team at North Pointe Dental.

Whether you’re considering these treatments for yourself or simply wish to expand your dental knowledge, this article promises to provide valuable insights into these integral aspects of restorative dentistry. Join us as we journey through the intricacies of inlays and onlays, and discover why they might be the perfect solution for enhancing your oral health and smile.

Woman smiling at the dentist

What are Inlays and Onlays?

Inlays and onlays are types of dental restorations that are uniquely designed to repair and strengthen a tooth that has been damaged due to decay or injury. Unlike fillings, which are molded into place during your dental visit, inlays and onlays are fabricated in a dental lab and then fitted and bonded to the damaged tooth.

What are Inlays?

Inlays are used when the damage or decay is within the cusps, or rounded edges, of a tooth. Think of them as highly durable and customized fillings, made specifically for the tooth’s particular shape and size. They provide a snug fit and seamless repair, restoring the tooth’s natural appearance and function.

What are Onlays?

Onlays, on the other hand, are more extensive. They are used when the damage extends over one or more of the cusps of the tooth. Onlays are sometimes referred to as “partial crowns” because they cover a larger area of the tooth than inlays, providing substantial reinforcement for weakened teeth.

Materials Used

Both inlays and onlays can be made from a variety of materials, including gold, porcelain, and composite resin. The choice of material usually depends on where the tooth is located, the extent of the damage, and aesthetic considerations.


A Step Towards Modern Dentistry

The use of inlays and onlays represents a shift towards conservative dentistry — a practice that aims to preserve as much of the natural tooth as possible. This approach not only maintains the integrity of your teeth but also ensures long-lasting and effective dental repairs.

In the past, these types of restorations were hand-crafted, but advances in dental technology have revolutionized their fabrication, making them more precise and durable than ever.

In summary, inlays and onlays are essential tools in the arsenal of restorative dentistry, offering a blend of durability, aesthetics, and tooth preservation. As we move forward, we’ll explore their differences and similarities in more detail, and understand how they function as part of your overall dental health strategy.


Inlays vs. Onlays – The Key Differences

Although inlays and onlays serve a similar purpose in dental restoration, there are key differences between them that influence when and how they are used.

Physical Differences

Inlays fit within the confines of the tooth’s cusps. They are ideal for repairing small to moderate areas of decay or damage within the biting surface.

Onlays, on the other hand, extend over one or more of the tooth’s cusps. They are utilized when the damage is more extensive, covering a larger portion of the tooth’s surface, sometimes even down the side.

Dental Situations for Use

Inlays are typically best for situations where the damage does not affect the tooth’s overall structure. They’re typically recommended when a traditional filling might not provide sufficient support.

When it comes to onlays, they are most frequently chosen when the tooth’s structure is compromised, but the damage isn’t severe enough to necessitate a full crown. They provide added strength by covering and protecting a larger area.

Material Options

Both inlays and onlays can be made from various materials, each with its benefits:

  • Gold: Highly durable and strong, but not commonly used for aesthetic reasons.
  • Porcelain: Popular for its ability to mimic the natural color and texture of teeth, making it an ideal choice for visible areas.
  • Composite Resin: A more affordable option that can be color-matched to your teeth, though not as strong as porcelain.

Similarities Between Inlays and Onlays

Despite their differences, inlays and onlays share several key similarities that make them valuable options in restorative dentistry.

Common Purposes and Benefits

Some of the most notable similarities between inlays and onlays lie in their shared purposes and benefits when it comes to your dental health. Here are the key ones:

  • Restoration of Function: Both inlays and onlays restore the functionality of a damaged tooth, enabling patients to chew comfortably and effectively.
  • Enhanced Strength and Durability: They reinforce the structural integrity of a tooth, providing more strength and resilience than traditional fillings.
  • Precision and Customization: Each inlay and onlay is custom-made to fit the specific contours of the tooth, ensuring a precise and comfortable fit.

Aesthetic Considerations

Aesthetics are probably the main reason why people even consider cosmetic dentistry, and these two procedures are very powerful in that regard. Here are the two characteristics that they share:

  • Natural Appearance: Both restorations are designed to blend seamlessly with the surrounding teeth, especially when made from porcelain or composite resin.
  • Preservation of Natural Tooth: By focusing on conserving as much of the natural tooth as possible, they maintain a more natural look compared to options like crowns.

Longevity and Durability

Both inlays and onlays are designed to be long-term solutions that will instill you with confidence. Here’s why:

  • Material Strength: The materials used for inlays and onlays, such as porcelain, composite resin, or gold, are known for their durability. This makes them resistant to wear and tear compared to regular fillings.
  • Preservation of Tooth Structure: Since inlays and onlays require less removal of the natural tooth structure than other restorative procedures, the remaining tooth is more stable and less prone to future damage.
  • Custom Fit: Their custom fabrication ensures a precise fit, reducing the risk of future dental problems such as tooth decay or restoration failure.
  • Maintenance: With proper oral hygiene, including regular brushing and flossing, and routine dental check-ups, inlays and onlays can maintain their integrity and appearance for over a decade. This makes them a cost-effective solution in the long run.
  • Adaptive to Changes: As they are less likely to discolor over time compared to natural teeth, they maintain their aesthetic appeal for longer periods.
    Dentist showing screen

The Procedures Explained

Inlays and onlays at North Pointe Dental are used to fix larger cavities, especially when they are too extensive for a regular filling but not severe enough to require a crown. This procedure not only treats tooth decay but also provides crucial support for molars.

In essence, it is a simple but precise three-step procedure that is carried out expertly by our team. In the paragraphs below, you can read more about what the three steps actually are.

Step 1: Assessment and Preparation

The process begins with a thorough assessment of the cavity’s size to determine whether an inlay or onlay is the most suitable solution. The infected area is numbed, and the decay is meticulously cleaned out. The tooth is then prepared for the restoration.

Step 2: Impression and Fabrication

An impression of your teeth is taken to ensure the inlay or onlay will fit perfectly. It is crafted from safe and durable materials, often using tooth-colored composites or metals for a natural appearance.

Step 3: Fitting and Finalization

Once the restoration is ready, it is carefully fitted to check for comfort and an optimal bite. Adjustments are made as necessary. The inlay or onlay is then securely cemented onto the tooth and polished, restoring the tooth’s function and aesthetics.

North Pointe Dental’s Approach to Inlays and Onlays

At North Pointe Dental, the approach to inlays and onlays centers around patient comfort, conservative treatment, and aesthetic excellence.

Patient-Oriented Approach

Every treatment is personalized, taking into account the patient’s unique dental situation and cosmetic preferences. This ensures that the final result not only functions well but also looks natural.

Conservative and Effective

One of the key advantages of inlays and onlays is their conservative nature. They involve less removal of the tooth enamel compared to crowns, thereby preserving more of the natural tooth. This approach aligns with the philosophy at North Pointe Dental to always favor treatments that maintain as much of the natural tooth structure as possible.

Aesthetic Match

The team at our clinic utilizes tooth-colored composites for inlays and onlays, ensuring that they blend seamlessly with the natural teeth. This discreet nature of the restorations makes them an excellent choice for patients concerned about the appearance of their dental work.

By focusing on these principles, North Pointe Dental ensures that inlays and onlays are not just functional restorations but also integral components of a beautiful and healthy smile.

Advantages of Choosing North Pointe Dental

When considering inlays and onlays, choosing the right dental practice is crucial. North Pointe Dental stands out for several reasons, and in the following sections of the article, we will try to explain why.

Expertise and Experience

North Pointe Dental boasts a team of highly skilled dental professionals adept in the latest restorative techniques, ensuring each inlay and onlay procedure is performed with precision and care. In addition to that, the staff regularly updates their training to stay abreast of the latest advancements in dental technology and materials.

State-of-the-Art Technology

The practice employs state-of-the-art dental technology for accurate diagnosis and precise treatment planning, ensuring optimal results for inlays and onlays. Using modern fabrication techniques, each inlay and onlay is crafted to perfectly match the patient’s tooth, both in fit and appearance.

Focus on Patient Experience

North Pointe Dental prioritizes patient comfort and ease, providing a welcoming and anxiety-free environment. Furthermore, each treatment plan is tailored to the patient’s specific needs and preferences, ensuring a personalized and satisfying dental experience.

Commitment to Oral Health

Beyond restorative care, the team at North Pointe Dental emphasizes preventive measures to maintain overall oral health. And one of the biggest factors in prevention is – education. Patients receive education and guidance on maintaining their dental work and overall oral hygiene, empowering them for long-term dental wellness.

Choosing North Pointe Dental for inlays and onlays means not just receiving a high-quality dental restoration, but also benefiting from comprehensive care that prioritizes your oral health and comfort.

Care and Maintenance of Inlays and Onlays

Proper care and maintenance are essential to extend the life of inlays and onlays. Here are some key practices recommended by our experienced dental professionals here at North Pointe Dental.

Daily Oral Hygiene

Regular brushing and flossing are the two main pillars of your dental hygiene. Brushing twice a day and flossing daily are crucial to prevent plaque buildup around the restoration and the rest of the teeth.

For those of you who are extra careful and want to avoid scratching the surface of inlays and onlays, it’s recommended to use a non-abrasive toothpaste.

Regular Dental Checkups

Visiting the dentist every six months for checkups and cleanings ensures that inlays and onlays, as well as overall oral health, are monitored and maintained.

You can book an appointment with one of our doctors here at North Pointe Dental any time you want, whether through our website or by contacting us directly by phone or email.

Avoiding Harmful Habits

To prevent damaging the restorations, patients should avoid habits like chewing ice, hard candy, or other hard objects. Also, for patients who grind their teeth, a night guard may be recommended to protect both the natural teeth and the restorations.

Diet Considerations

Reducing the intake of sugary and acidic foods can help prevent decay and prolong the life of the restorations.

By following these care and maintenance guidelines, patients can ensure the longevity and effectiveness of their inlays and onlays, maintaining a healthy and beautiful smile.

FAQs About Inlays and Onlays

In this section of the article, we will briefly go through some of the most frequently asked questions about the topic of inlays and outlays. While some of this information may have already been covered in earlier parts of the article, this can serve as a recap of the most important points.

1. What is inlay and onlay in dentistry?

Inlays and onlays in dentistry are tooth-filling structures used to fix cavities that are too large for traditional fillings yet too small for dental crowns. They can also be used for worn teeth or injured teeth, providing support for the surface of a person’s molars.

Inlays are used for areas between the cusps of teeth, while onlays are for larger areas on the tooth, including the cusp. Onlays are sometimes called partial crowns; this is because they cover the tooth’s surface but not as much as a crown.

2. What is the difference between inlay and onlay?

The difference between an inlay and an onlay is the area of coverage. An inlay covers less tooth damage (in between the tooth cusp), while an onlay covers more (inside the cusp and the cusp itself).

3. What are inlays and onlays used for?

Inlays and onlays are used for restoring damaged back teeth from large cavities, tooth injury, or trauma.

4. How long do inlays and onlays last?

Inlays and onlays can be crafted with different materials but typically last ten years or more. It’s important to take proper care of your teeth at home and maintain biannual dentist visits to ensure the integrity of your dental work.

5. Are onlays better than crowns?

Onlays and crowns both restore large tooth damage on a person’s molars, but the difference is in the area of coverage.

Crowns cover the entire molar biting surface, including the tooth structure itself. Crowns are used for full tooth coverage; they work as a cap to go on top of the tooth.

Onlays cover less of the tooth, such as the molar surface itself, including one cusp or several. Unlike crowns, less of the natural tooth structure is removed during onlay prep.


Inlays and onlays represent a significant advancement in restorative dentistry, offering a perfect blend of strength, aesthetics, and preservation of natural tooth structure. At North Pointe Dental, the application of these restorations is not just about fixing a dental issue; it’s about enhancing the overall health and appearance of your smile.

With the detailed insights and expert care provided by our team, patients can make informed decisions and enjoy the long-lasting benefits of these restorations. We invite you to reach out to us to discuss how inlays and onlays can be a part of your dental health journey, ensuring a beautiful and functional smile for years to come.

If you happen to need inlays or onlays, then you should consider booking an appointment with our team at North Pointe Dental. You can do so by calling us at (813) 961-1727, emailing us at, or visiting our website.

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