Inlays & Onlays

When more than half of the tooth’s biting surface is damaged, a dentist will often use an inlay or onlay.

What are dental inlays and onlays?

Inlays and onlays can be made of porcelain, gold, or composite resin. These pieces are bonded to the damaged area of the tooth. An inlay, which is similar to a dental filling, is used inside the cusp tips of the tooth. An onlay is a more substantial reconstruction, similar to the inlay, but extending out over one or more of the cusps of the tooth.

Traditionally, gold has been the material of choice for inlays and onlays. In recent years, however, porcelain has become increasingly popular due to its strength and color, which can potentially match the natural color of your teeth.

How are inlays and onlays applied?

Inlays and onlays normally require two appointments to complete the procedure, but in most cases can be done in one visit with our CEREC® imaging and milling unit.

First, Dr. Orme administers an anesthetic and prepares your tooth for the restoration, removing decayed and weakened tooth structure. Next he takes an optical impression of the prepared tooth for a virtual model, which is used to design the restoration. After refining the design, Dr. Orme sends the design to the CEREC® milling unit in the office.  A ceramic block that matches your tooth shade is placed in the milling machine. About 10 – 20 minutes later, your all-ceramic, tooth-colored onlay or inlay is finished and ready to bond in place.  Dr. Orme tries the restoration in your mouth to ensure proper fit and bite. The restoration is then polished and bonded to the prepared tooth. Your tooth is restored with no “temporary” or return trip necessary. All of this is done in a single appointment! 

If unable to restore using our CEREC®, Dr. Orme will require two visits.  During the first visit, the filling being replaced or the damaged or decaying area of the tooth is removed, and the tooth is prepared for the inlay or onlay. To ensure proper fit and bite, an impression of the tooth is made and sent to a lab for fabrication. Dr. Orme will then apply a temporary sealant on the tooth and schedule the next appointment.  At the second appointment, the temporary sealant is removed. Dr. Orme will then make sure that the inlay or onlay fits correctly. If the fit is satisfactory, the inlay or onlay will be bonded to the tooth with a strong resin and polished to a smooth finish.

Considerations for Inlays and Onlays

Traditional fillings can reduce the strength of a natural tooth by up to 50 percent. As an alternative, inlays and onlays, which are bonded directly onto the tooth using special high-strength resins, can actually increase the strength of a tooth by up to 75 percent. As a result, they can last from 10 to 30 years. In some cases, where the damage to the tooth is not extensive enough to merit an entire dental crown, onlays can provide a very good alternative.