Dental cavities can affect your natural tooth structure and functionality. Generally, dental fillings are used to cover minor cavities, while crowns are used to restore severely damaged teeth. However, when a filling is too small and a crown is too large for the level of enamel damage, the dentist will recommend inlays or onlays to cover the gaps in your teeth. Dental inlays and onlays are composite, gold, or porcelain materials used to repair damaged or decayed teeth.

Inlays and onlays are custom-made to fit the cavity on your tooth perfectly. This helps restore the tooth’s outlook and normal function. While opting for inlays or onlays presents numerous benefits for your oral health and functionality, the procedure may also bring out negative consequences when it is not done correctly. Therefore, consulting with a skilled dentist is vital for ensuring that you come out of the procedure with the desired outcome. At The Whittier Dentist, we provide top-notch general dentistry services to ensure a favorable outcome for your dental restorations. We serve clients requiring inlays or onlays in Whittier, CA.

Overview of Inlays and Onlays

In dentistry, inlays and onlays ate indirect fillings used to repair teeth that have been damaged by tooth decay. The term indirect fillings mean that the restorations are made in a lab and placed in the cavities as one solid piece that fits the cavity’s size and shape. While many procedures can be used to restore your teeth from damage, inlays and onlays are the best options when your teeth are too damaged to support a traditional filling but not enough damage to require a dental crown.

Dental inlays and onlays are made from different materials such as gold, composite and ceramic. The inlays are designed to restore damage on the tooth surface, and you can use them when tooth decay is on the cusps. The main difference between the inlays and onlays are used to cover a larger area of the tooth. Sometimes, the onlays are referred to as partial crowns. This is because it saves a significant part of the tooth. Unlike the inlays, the onlays are used on the tooth surface and extend to the tooth’s center.

Inlays are used on decayed teeth and teeth whose fillings are damaged or worn out. Your dentist could recommend an inlay or onlay for the following conditions:

  • Tooth decay. Cavities resulting from tooth decay occur when bacteria in your mouth produce acids that erode the tooth structure. Your dentist can recommend onlays and inlays for minor or moderate tooth decay.
  • Chipped or cracked teeth. Chipping or cracking of the tooth enamel may result from bruxism or an accident. If the crack cannot be repaired with a dental filling, inlays or onlays may be your best choice.

Types of Inlays and Onlays

Onlays and inlays can be made from the following materials:


Earlier, gold was the most common material of choice for onlays and inlays due to its strength and durability. The gold restorations protect the tooth’s cusp from further trauma and cavities. With tooth-colored dental restorations, the gold restorations became less common. Often, your dentist will recommend gold for inlays or onlays on the back molars where appearance isn’t critical. 

One of the benefits of the gold restorations is that they are highly durable and stain-resistant. However, gold inlays or onlays do not match your tooth color and are more expensive than any other form of dental restoration.

Composite Resin

Composite onlays or inlays can be used to fill cavities that are too large for a dental filling. Compared to traditional amalgam fillings, the composite resin restorations are less prone to damage. Composite resins can be made to match your tooth color and are suitable for all teeth.

Some of the downsides to the composite resin material for inlays and onlays is that they are weaker than the gold restorations and have an increased risk of staining.


Ceramic inlays and onlays are dental restorations that mimic your teeth’ shape, color, and function. Porcelain is a solid and durable material that is less susceptible to damage than composite fillings. Additionally. The restorations made from ceramic blend well with your teeth and are stain-resistant. Despite the strength of porcelain, it is a rigid and delicate material with an increased risk of fracture.

Dental Inlays and Onlays Restoration Procedure

A dental inlays or onlays procedure is performed in a clinic or dental office. While the procedure could vary depending on the type of tooth you want to fix and the material of your choice, the process generally includes the following steps:

     1. Removal of the Decayed Tooth Part

The dentist will numb your gums and remove your first dental appointment's damaged part. Often, inlays and onlays are used to replace old dental fillings. Therefore, your dentist will remove these fillings. Any decayed part of the tooth is scrapped or drilled off, leaving a hollow cavity. Your dentist will then shape the hollow space on your teeth to ensure easy placement of the inlays or onlays.

     2. Taking Tooth Impressions

After the tooth is clear of all the decayed tooth parts and old fillings, the dentist will impression the tooth. The material used to make the tooth impressions is silicon and can take a while to set. Taking tooth impressions is essential since it guides the lab to create the inlay or onlay. The dentist will need to record each impression detail to ensure that the inlays or onlays will fit perfectly on the cavity in your tooth. The procedure of taking tooth impressions will be repeated for each tooth that requires repair.

While making the tooth impressions, the dentist will guide you through choosing the suitable material for your inlay or onlay. Dental inlays can be made of gold, composite resin, or ceramic. If you want a ceramic inlay or onlay, you must choose the shade that matches your teeth.

     3. Placement of a Temporary Filling

Since the inlay or onlay is prepared in a laboratory, a temporary filling will seal the cavity. Your dentist makes the temporary fillings using the impressions before the tooth preparation. Temporary fillings are made of self-cure acrylic, which is placed on the cavity and allowed to harden slowly. Temporary fillings are prone to damage after a while. Therefore, you need to make sure that you follow up with your inlay or onlay placement appointment.

In addition to covering the hollow space on the tooth, a temporary filling helps maintain normal tooth function. It protects the inner part of your tooth from bacteria that could cause further damage. After placing the temporary filling, the dentist will check your bite and clean the tooth up.

     4. Inlay or Onlay Placement

Since the placement of inlay or onlay takes two appointments, the second appointment is set to place the custom-made restoration. Often the second appointment takes between thirty minutes and one hour, depending on the number of teeth that require repair. Since removing the temporary filling could result in tooth sensitivity, your dentist will numb your tooth. 

The temporary fillings are placed lightly. Therefore, their removal will need slight pressure from a scalar or other hand instruments. If the shape of the cavity is retentive, drilling may be necessary to remove the filling. When the temporary filling is removed successfully, the dentist will clean the area by eliminating residual cement.

The actual placement of the inlay or onlay varies depending on the material used and the dentist’s choice of cement for attaching the material to your tooth. If the inlay or onlay does not fit the tooth perfectly or feels some discomfort, the dentist cannot cement it, and it must be returned to the lab for adjustments.

Advantages of Inlays and Onlays

Inlays and onlays are used to restore the integrity and function compromised by damage or decay. When compared to traditional dental fillings, inlays and onlays are more comprehensive. However, they help restore not too extensive injuries to warrant a crown. The inlays and onlays are not only strong but aesthetically pleasing since they can match the shade of your teeth. Some of the benefits offered by the dental inlays and onlays include:

Conservative Restoration

Compared to dental crowns, tooth restoration with inlay or onlays requires little or no tooth reduction. Typically, your dentist will only remove the decayed part of your tooth. The more tooth material removed before a dental procedure, the worse your tooth sensitivity may become in case of damage.

Strength and Durability

While regular fillings are made using composite resin or amalgam, inlays and onlays are made with gold or porcelain, which is more robust and durable. While dental fillings last between five and fifteen years, inlays and onlays can serve you for the rest of your life with proper care.

Resistance to Staining

The silver amalgam used for dental fillings could create permanent dark spots on your teeth. Inlays and onlays are made from porcelain or ceramic, resistant to staining. This means that the restorations can retain their original color.


Since inlays and onlays are used more for treatment and less for cosmetic purposes, your insurance provider may be able to cover the procedure partially or fully. Although inlays and onlays cost more than the traditional fillings, their durability is worth your investment.

Minimal Expansion and Better Margins

Silver fillings often expand and contract with temperature changes. This can cause your tooth to weaken and break. Small cracks in the tooth enamel may be an entryway for bacteria that causes further tooth decay. The materials used for inlays are more stable and less reactive to temperature fluctuations. This helps reduce the risk of tooth damage.

Natural Look

Since the dentist will take a mold of your tooth, the inlays and onlays are made to fit perfectly on the cavity and match the color of the surrounding teeth. This helps create a natural look in your mouth. On the other hand, amalgam fillings have gray or black color that could destroy the outlook of your teeth.

Easy Care

Inlays and onlays do not require specialized care after the procedure is completed. As soon as the anesthesia wears off, you can continue with your routine. Additionally, you do not have to adhere to any diet restrictions. At-home care for these restorations resembles that of your natural teeth, including regular brushing and flossing and regular check-ups with your dentist.

Potential Complications Associated with the Dental Inlay and Onlay Procedure

Placement of inlays and onlays is a relatively safe procedure. However, like any other dental procedure, there is a risk for potential complications which could cause serious oral health issues. Complications associated with dental inlays or onlays include:

  • Allergic reactions to the material used for inlays or onlays. While the incident is rare, you can have an allergic reaction to the inlays or onlays. Some materials used for the filling or seal can cause an allergic reaction. If you have signs of an allergy, it would be wise to call your dentist.
  • Nerve, blood vessel injury, or other complications for the anesthesia
  • Expansion and shrinkage of the inlay or onlay material could cause damage to the restoration and your teeth.
  • Decay or damage of the tooth when there is a leakage or loss of the inlay or onlay
  • Mouth or gum injuries
  • Tooth sensitivity. If the inlay or onlay is damaged or lost, the nerves of your teeth will be exposed, resulting in temperature sensitivity.

Aftercare Tips for Inlays and Onlays

Recovery after an inlay or onlay procedure takes a few days. However, your teeth may still be susceptible to bacteria and the buildup of oral plaque. Therefore, it is essential to take good care of your teeth even after restoration with the inlays on onlays. You can reduce the chance of complications and oral diseases with the following tips:

Good Oral Hygiene

Inlays and onlays do not protect your teeth from bacteria and potential decay. Therefore, you need to practice good oral hygiene like regular brushing and flossing. Sometimes, the inlays may extend to the areas between your teeth, making it difficult to clean. To help protect the fillings and increase their durability, you may need regular professional teeth cleaning.


After dental restoration using inlays or onlays, you need to be cautious about your diet. What you put in your mouth has a significant impact on your oral health. It is not uncommon for tooth decay to recur even after placement of the inlays or onlay. Therefore, you need to limit sugary and starchy foods. While sugar does not directly cause tooth decay, it creates a conducive environment for bacteria to thrive. Overgrowth of normal mouth bacteria and leftover food particles is responsible for causing tooth decay and enamel damage.

Additionally, you need to avoid highly acidic foods. Acid weakens the tooth enamel increasing the susceptibility to damage. If you cannot avoid acidic foods or drinks, ensure that you rinse your mouth with plenty of water after eating.

Regular Dental Checkups

After the inlay or onlay procedure, you need to visit your dentist at least every six months. During these appointments, your dentist will check for signs of damage, leakage, or disease on the restored tooth. 

Dental Inlay and Onlay Frequently Asked Questions

When your teeth are damaged from a traumatic event or decay, you may be thinking of dental fillings or a crown as an option to repair the damage. However, an inlay or onlay may be what you need. Knowing how the procedure is performed and what to expect can help you adjust to the procedure’s outcome. The following are some frequently asked questions on inlays and onlays:

     1. Is the inlay or onlay procedure painful?

Your relaxation and comfort are essential elements for the inlay or onlay procedure. If the dentist does not apply a numbing gel before injecting the anesthesia. You could feel a sharp pain in your gums. Also, you could experience some slight pressure when the dentist prepares the tooth for the inlay or onlay procedure. The discomfort or pain does not last long after the procedure.

     2. How does one feel after an inlay or onlay procedure?

Placement of inlay or onlay is an invasive dental procedure. Therefore, your dentist will use anesthesia to numb your mouth and gums. Since the anesthesia does not wear off immediately, you could experience numbness for several hours. Additionally, you could feel tenderness in the gums, and your teeth will be more sensitive to a drastic change in temperatures. If the sensitivity does not subside after a few weeks, it may be a sign of a complication with the procedure, and you should consult with your dentist.

     3. How will the dental inlay or onlay procedure affect my daily life?

Dental inlays or onlays are used to fill cavities too large for a dental filling but not too extensive to need a crown. The procedure will save moderately damaged teeth from more damage and preserve your smile. You will likely go home after the process and carry on your normal activities when the anesthesia wears off.

However, like other dental procedures, inlays and onlay require care to protect them from damage and dysfunction. Although inlays and onlays are prone to wear or tear and could need replacement, they are durable and can serve you for up to thirty years with proper care.

     4. When should I contact my dentist after an inlay or onlay?

Inlays and onlays do not protect your teeth from decay and bacteria. Therefore, you need to continue with healthy oral habits and regular dental check-ups. You need to call your dentist immediately if you experience the following symptoms:

  • Pain or difficulty chewing or biting
  • Bleeding
  • Fever
  • Pain on the gums and teeth
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Swelling of the tongue and gums

      5. How can I prepare for the inlay or onlay procedure?

You are a significant team player in your dental care. The steps that you take before the procedure could affect the outcome. Although there is no special preparation needed before an inlay or onlay procedure, it would be wise to do the following:

Answer the questions about your medical history truthfully. This involves disclosing any medical conditions you have, prescription medications you are taking, and your history of allergies.

    • Take the medications prescribed to you 
    • Disclose any possibility of pregnancy before the procedure

     6. How much does an inlay or onlay cost?

The cost of restoring your teeth with inlays or onlays varies depending on the number of teeth you want to repair and the material. Since inlays and onlays are made in a laboratory, the cost may be significantly higher than other restorations in the dental office.

You are likely to pay $650 to $1200 to fit one tooth with an inlay or onlay. Like dental crowns, inlays or onlays can serve you for up to thirty years, worth the price you need to pay. Since inlays can be used to repair extensive tooth damage from decay, your dental insurance coverage may cover at least the cost for the restorations.

Get Inlays or Onlays Restoration Near Me

Having a great smile can be achieved by taking care of our teeth. However, accidents and incidents happen, resulting in damage to teeth. These often lead to dental restorative procedures using inlays and onlays. Inlays and onlays are dental restoration procedures that your dentist can discuss when you consult them about repairing decayed or broken teeth. Inlays and onlays provide numerous benefits compared to other restorative procedures like fillings and crowns. In addition to filling your cavities, these restorations help return your teeth to normal function.

If you consider inlays or onlays to restore your damaged teeth, it is crucial to work with a qualified dentist. Your dentist will guide you through choosing the suitable material for the restoration to meet your dental needs. At The Whittier Dentist, we are available to answer all your questions and guide you into attaining the desired result from your onlay or inlay treatment procedure. Contact us today at 562-632-1223 to book an appointment if you are looking for a general dentist in Whittier, CA.