What are inlays and onlays?

When you sustain damage to a tooth, you face several restorative treatment choices. Deciding between procedural options may prove daunting. Understanding the subtle but important differences that distinguish dental restorations can help you work with your dentist to choose the right treatment plan. What current dental restorations can you choose from to correct a damaged tooth? In this article, Lake Forest dentist Dr. James Fondriest explains differences between dental crowns, onlays, and inlays.


When a cavity grows to reach the tooth wall, the side and one or more cusps on your tooth can decay completely. Unlike crowns, which require significant tooth reduction prior to placement, onlays restore a cusp and side on an otherwise intact tooth. Recently, porcelain onlays proved to withstand bite pressure as well as and longer than gold onlays, the previous preference for long-term restorative onlays.


Sometimes, filling a cavity with traditional amalgam or composite material can do more damage to a tooth. If a cavity is large enough, the filling can act as a wedge, splitting surrounding areas of healthy tooth apart with each bite. An inlay acts as an onlay, but restores the tooth between cusps. When decay or damage to teeth does not affect the cusps and sides of teeth, an inlay can correct damage to a tooth.


For heavily damaged or decayed teeth, Dr. Fondriest may recommend a dental crown. The damaged tooth is reshaped to fit a cap that resembles a natural tooth, and that aligns with your bite. Dr. Fondriest offers durable, color-matched porcelain crowns. Onlays and crowns can be confused because crowns completely cover a tooth, whereas onlays only restore a portion of tooth damage and are sometimes called 3/4 crowns.

Learn more about inlays and onlays

Are you unsure about whether you need a crown, onlay, or inlay? Talk to Dr. Fondriest at our office. Together, you can review the latest in porcelain restorations that Lake Forest Dental Arts offers. Call (847) 234-0517 to schedule an appointment. We welcome patients from Lake Forest and North Shore suburbs of Chicago.