Dental Inlay/Onlay vs. Filling: Which Is the Better Option?

  • Aug 17 2023

Dental inlays/onlays and fillings are both potential options to restore teeth affected by cavities or tooth decay. However, the choice between the two isn’t obvious at first. Each one has benefits in certain situations. When the time comes to restore your tooth, your dentist will carefully assess your needs and recommend the right procedure for you.

What is a dental inlay/onlay and what are the benefits?

While most patients are familiar with the general concept of dental fillings, dental inlays/onlays are less commonly understood. First off, let’s clarify the difference between inlay and onlay. The distinction between inlay and onlay is the cuspal coverage. An inlay is a restoration within the tooth. An onlay is when there is a wall or a cusp that needs restoration. In our discussion moving forward, we are using the term inlay/onlay as being the same concept of treatment.

Conventional amalgam (silver) and composite (tooth color) fillings have limitations, depending on the size of decay and destroyed tooth structure. A dental inlay/onlay is a complete restoration of a damaged tooth, where a large portion such as a wall or a cusp has been destroyed by decay or a fracture. Inlays/Onlays are sometimes used as an alternative option when the specific nature of tooth damage prevents a dental crown from being placed.

A conventional filling is used where the amount of tooth loss is to a degree where the dentist can restore the tooth ideally, to its original shape. If the dentist cannot restore the tooth ideally, the decay is removed, the walls are shaped up and an impression is taken of the damaged tooth and the patient is sent home with a temporary restoration. The impression is sent to a laboratory where inlays/onlays are fabricated outside the mouth. There are many materials available to make the inlays/onlays such as porcelain, composite resin, gold, and more.

An inlay/onlay can provide a range of benefits over dental fillings in certain situations. They generally provide greater strength and integrity in larger restorations. While a dental filling is perfectly suited for smaller cavities, inlays/onlays fare better when replacing a large part of the chewing or biting surface. You’ll also find that a dental inlay/onlay is a very permanent solution. They last for decades without issue. While dental fillings can also be highly durable, they tend to wear down and develop issues when used in large restorations on chewing surfaces, which is why inlays/onlays are a preferred solution in those cases.

When are dental fillings the right choice?

While inlays/onlays have their benefits, many cases still call for dental fillings. The smaller the cavity, the more likely it is that a dental filling will be the best option. They’re quick and easy to apply and show great performance when dealing with minor damage.

Dental fillings are also applied to essentially any part of the tooth. A dental inlay/onlay is only an appropriate choice when the restoration is too large and wide for a conventional filling. Dental fillings can be applied to any of the tooth’s surfaces, including the front, back, and near the roots.

Today, composite dental fillings provide even more benefits. These fillings rely on reinforced composite resin instead of traditional metal amalgam. The new material still delivers strength and protection but can also be customized to match the natural shade of your teeth. Your filling will be essentially invisible, with no harsh metal coloring.

The Right Solution for Your Unique Needs

In order to truly understand your treatment options, you’re going to need to visit your dentist. While these general trends stand true for dental inlays and fillings, every case is unique, and many factors are at play. Your dentist will carefully evaluate various criteria to recommend the best treatment for your long-term oral health.

If you’re facing tooth decay, physical damage, or other issues, you can visit Payam Cohen, D.D.S, P.C., in Queens, NY, to find a treatment that works for you. You can take advantage of dental inlays and onlays, composite fillings, dental crowns, and other restorative treatments for a beautiful, strong, and lasting smile.

Categories: Dental Health, General Dentistry