Onlays and Inlays: What Material Options Can I Choose From?

Dental Restorations Miami Beach, FL

Acting similarly to a filling, onlays and inlays are both types of dental restoration to fix decay in a tooth. A dentist may recommend either form if a patient has minimal damage to a tooth but it still needs some kind of protective seal. Inlays and onlays are less intrusive than crowns, only replacing the small damaged part of a tooth. Understanding the difference between these procedures and what materials they are made of can help patients make educated decisions on which treatment to choose.

Understanding onlays and inlays

The main difference between an inlay and onlay is where they sit on the tooth and how much of the tooth they conceal. Both procedures require two separate appointments. The first appointment is to clean out the decayed section of tooth. The second is to receive the permanent restoration.


An inlay is used when a small section of the tooth is removed for decay. This section is normally in the center of the tooth. Unlike fillings, which often go much deeper (sometimes nearly to the root of the tooth), inlays are much shallower. They replace the small part of the tooth that was taken out.


Onlays mainly differ from inlays in that they are slightly bigger. Instead of just filling in a small section of tooth, the onlay extends out to cover some of the top of the tooth. They therefore replace the chewing surface of the tooth, strengthening any portion that may have been lost by the removal of decay.

Comparisons with fillings

One difference between onlays and inlays versus fillings is that fillings usually only take one visit to complete. Fillings are made of composite materials that fill in the empty space inside a tooth, whereas the other two are made with one solid piece of material that is specially made to fit the space. Fillings may require dental crowns to protect them, while the others do not.

Material options

Materials for inlays and onlays have changed and advanced in past decades. Gold was originally used for them and still is in some cases, but it is often replaced by newer options for aesthetic purposes. The kind of material a patient chooses depends on individual needs and preferences.


Porcelain can match the color of a patient’s natural teeth very well. It is incredibly strong and durable, so it can last a long time.


Like porcelain, ceramic can also be matched to a person’s tooth color for a seamless transition from natural to artificial teeth. It is not as strong as porcelain, but many people get it for its aesthetic value.

Composite resin

A dentist can use composite resin to carefully shape and mold an inlay or onlay to look natural. In some cases, using this material does not require an outside lab, but it can be more reliable than fillings.


Patients can discuss these materials with a dentist for their next dental restoration. A dentist can determine which may be the most beneficial.

Request an appointment here: or call Miami Beach Smiles at (305) 534-2526 for an appointment in our Miami Beach office.

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