Dental Onlays vs. Dental Inlays

Cosmetic Dental Care Santa Barbara, CA

Often, people run into decay or erosion on their teeth and may wonder what the best method of treatment is. There are so many dental procedures that exist today in order to restore parts of the teeth. Today, we will go over the difference between a dental onlay and a dental inlay. Both of these options are known to be indirect fillings, which means that they are crafted custom to fit a person's tooth (at a dental lab) and then later bonded by the dentist.

Both dental onlays and inlays are considered when a person has damage that needs more attention than a filling, but when it isn't severe enough for a dental crown. Knowing what the differences are between the two will be beneficial to a person who is experiencing dental damage and considering having it treated.

Dental onlays

Dental onlays are often referred to as a partial crown because it is almost simply just that! An onlay is used primarily for larger areas of damage on a tooth because they can reach from cusp to cusp on a tooth, unlike inlays. They are used on the biting surface of a tooth, so typically a molar or a tooth that is near the back of the mouth.

While an onlay does act as a partial crown, it is said to be more beneficial because it does allow for a good portion of the natural tooth to still be saved. With a dental crown, the entire tooth is typically covered which doesn't allow for any part of the natural tooth to be exposed. A dental only allows for restoring the damaged part as well as keeping the natural part out as well.

Dental inlays

While a dental inlay does provide a similar goal, it actually does differ significantly from an onlay. A dental inlay acts as a way to preserve the surface of the tooth. They will be used when the damage is done in between cusps or the little points of the teeth. Dental inlays are often used for smaller areas of damage as opposed to onlays which focus on the larger portions of damage.

Both dental onlays and inlays can be used for restoring damaged parts of a tooth. Ceramics, gold, and composite are all materials that both inlays and onlays are offered in. Dentists will determine what is best for the damaged tooth as well as consider the preference of the patient. A material may be chosen based on the severity of the damage, the desire and need for durability, as well as the availability of the material.

Patients considering dental inlays or onlays must remember that both of these options are only possible for teeth that have small amounts of damage. Teeth that have such severe damage may need dental crowns if the entire tooth is at risk. It's best that anyone considering dental inlays or onlays visit their dentist right away. They are trained to know what is best for each damaged tooth.


If you still have questions about the differences between dental onlays and dental inlays then give us a call today. Our trained professionals can help walk you through the similarities and differences of each. We're happy to help!

Request an appointment here: or call Dental Sedation and Implant Center at (805) 920-2133 for an appointment in our Santa Barbara office.

Check out what others are saying about our dental services on Yelp: Cosmetic Dental Care.


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