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One out of four adults currently has one or more cavities. If allowed to persist, cavities can develop into an infection. 

The good news is you have treatment options. As long as the cavity isn’t too deep, dental inlays and onlays can fill them. 

Once finished, this restorative dental care procedure can strengthen the infected tooth and add a layer of stability. 

There are many things to consider if your dentist wants to move forward with inlays and onlays. Check out this guide to learn more about the different types of inlays and onlays and find out what goes into the procedure. 

What Are Dental Inlays and Onlays?

When you go to a restorative dentist for a cavity, they’ll analyze the level of damage. Cavities that run deep into the tooth will require an inlay to provide structural integrity. 

More widespread cavities will need an onlay. It will fit over the top of the tooth and run down the sides. 

Your dentist may decide that an onlay or inlay is unnecessary. If a filling is enough to stop your level of tooth decay, they will try that first. If the tooth is too far gone, they’ll have no choice but to jump right to a root canal.  

Types of Inlays and Onlays

Inlays and onlays come in different materials. Some are more appropriate for the front of the mouth, while others work better for molars. 


Porcelain inlays and onlays are ideal for the front of the mouth. Of all the options available, porcelain best mimics the look of natural teeth. 

Porcelain restorations are also super durable and resistant to staining. 


If you’re on a budget, composite inlays, and onlays will be your best option. Like porcelain, this material mimics the look of natural teeth. That makes them most appropriate for front restorations. 

The downside of composite is that it’s not that durable. It’s also not as stain resistant as porcelain. 


When it comes to durability, there is no material better than gold. Not only is gold strong, but it’s also stain-resistant.

Due to its durability and metallic color, gold works best for molar restorations. The downside is that while gold is the sturdiest option available, it’s also the most expensive. 

Understanding the Procedure

Now that you know more about what dental inlays and onlays are and what materials options you have, it’s time to talk about the actual procedure. 

If your dentist uses CEREC technology, they can do the entire procedure in one appointment. All they have to do is make a digital scan of your tooth, and they’ll be ready to go. 

Some dentists have to make molds and send them to labs. If that’s the case, the procedure will take two appointments. 

Appointment One

Once you sit down in the chair, your dentist will numb your infected tooth with anesthesia. After that, they’ll drill into the tooth to clean out the damage. 

After prepping the tooth, the dentist will place putty over it to make a mold. The mold will be sent to a lab to make the inlay/onlay. 

The restorative dentist will finish your appointment by placing a temporary crown over the infected tooth. Before leaving the office, you’ll schedule appointment number two. 

Appointment Two

Your dentist will take the temporary cap off your tooth. From there, they’ll place the inlay/onlay over it to test the size. 

If it’s not a perfect fit, they’ll remove it and shape the tooth until it is. They’ll then attach the inlay/onlay to the tooth with dental cement. 

Once it’s attached, the dentist will polish the inlay/onlay until it matches the look of your other teeth. 

Aftercare Tips

After the procedure, your dentist will give you a list of care tips. Following them will ensure your tooth stays healthy. 

First of all, you should avoid eating for 24 hours. When you do start eating again, take it easy. Avoid hard foods like nuts and pretzels. 

Stay on an easy-to-chew diet until the area has the chance to heal. Be sure to stay hydrated. 

You can brush and floss like normal unless your dentist tells you otherwise. Try to be gentle around the treated area. 

If you’re a smoker, now is the time to put down the cigarettes. Alcoholic beverages will be off-limits for a little while as well. 

Sugary and acidic foods are okay in moderation, but don’t go overboard. Having too much sugar will make your teeth more vulnerable to cavities. 

When to Seek Out Emergency Help

After the anesthesia wears off, it’s natural to feel some discomfort. Call your dentist if you experience sudden pain or swelling after 24 hours. 

If it hurts to bite down, it may be a case of a high bite. Your dentist will need to adjust the inlay/onlay. 

If you avoid having the adjustment, you won’t only break the restorative. You’ll also crack your tooth and cause lasting nerve damage. 

All You Need to Know About Dental Inlays and Onlays

If you have a bad enough cavity, your dentist may suggest dental inlays and onlays. 

Inlays are the ideal solution for deep cavities. Onlays are used for ones that are wider spread. You’ll have the option to choose from a variety of materials. You can go with the classic porcelain or composite if you’re on a budget. 

After your procedure, your dentist will give you aftercare instructions that you’ll need to follow to keep your smile looking great. 

Are you ready to have your cavities treated? Contact us to schedule an appointment today.