What are the differences between inlay & onlay, and dental filling? (with dental filling cost)

Got a cavity but not sure what’s the best treatment for you? While many should be quite familiar with dental fillings, perhaps some of you have heard your dentist mentioning the terms dental inlays and onlays. If you are wondering “What exactly are their differences?”, read this article to find out more!!

Just a brief introduction before we dive deeper into their differences…

Dental fillings

are most commonly used to treat cavities (also known as tooth decay) in which they help restore the tooth to its original state while preventing plaque and bacteria growth within the tooth which could lead to severe tooth damage. 

Inlays & Onlays

are also essentially tooth fillings that are used for more serious cases of tooth damage and decay. An inlay is fitted only between the pits of the damaged tooth whereas the onlay will also be used to protect one or more cusps/egdes of the tooth. 

*For better understanding of the use of dental terms, you can refer to the diagrams below.

Figure 1: Difference between Inlay & Onlay (Medical, 2019)

1. Severity of Tooth Damage determines Dental Filling Treatment vs Inlay/Onlays

Between dental fillings and inlays/onlays, the treatment chosen is dependent on the severity of the tooth damage of the patient. Dental fillings are most appropriate for filling cavities and gaps which are not too large as large dental fillings could weaken the remaining structure.

On the other hand, inlays/onlays are mostly used for serious cases of tooth decay in which the gap is larger and/or deeper. 

*See picture below for better visualization

Figure 2: Severity of tooth decay (Dentistry, n.d.)

2. Differences in Application Method of Dental Fillings and Inlays/Onlays

(Indirect vs Direct)

Inlays and Onlays are fitted on the patient through an indirect method in which the inlays/onlays are pre-made in a dental laboratory to suit each patient’s need and then subsequently bonded to the damage tooth. On the other hand, dental fillings are applied directly to the tooth after cleaning. They are not pre-made in dental laboratories and are instead moulded to fit the gap in your mouth in real time when your dentist commences the tooth filling.

3. Difference in Duration Required for Dental Fillings vs Inlays/Onlays

As a result of the difference of application methods, inlays and onlays usually take at least 2 or more visits to the dentist, spanning over a few weeks, before the procedure is complete. As for dental fillings, the procedure can be easily completed in one sitting and only taking up a few hours or even less. 

4. Cost Difference between Dental Fillings and Inlays/Onlays

Given that these treatments serve to treat tooth damages of varying severities, their cost will also differ. Dental fillings are intuitively cheaper since they require less preparatory work and less outsourcing to dental laboratories. The cost of dental fillings ranges anywhere between $50-$2000 per tooth depending on the type of material chosen. (Gold being the most expensive) Meanwhile, the cost of inlays/onlays generally starts at $650 and above per tooth.

Now that you know their differences, should you be more worried about the type of treatment you are receiving? Don’t worry because they are the epitome of the phrase “same-same but different”. Here are some of their similarities and reasons why you should not be too concerned over the specific treatment you are receiving.

1. Dental fillings & Inlays/Onlays are forms of tooth restoration

Dental fillings, inlays and onlays are all treatment methods for tooth damage. These treatments can help save your tooth by restoring it to its original potential. Some examples of tooth damage include cavities, cracked/broken/worn down tooth.

2. Benefits of Dental fillings & inlays/onlays

Other added benefits of receiving any of these treatments include toughening of tooth and reduction of tooth chipping risk when pressure is applied.

3. Choice of Materials of dental fillings & inlays/onlays

Given that these treatment methods are fundamentally similar, the materials that they are fabricated from are also similar. Some examples include gold, porcelain, amalgam, composite and more.

The bottom line is “These treatments are meant to do you well”. All you need to do is to find a dentist that you can place good faith in and communicate your problems clearly to them for these doctors to do their job well.

Here at Vivid Dental Surgeons, we aim to educate our patients on matters regarding oral hygiene and health. Especially amidst this COVID-19 period, we encourage everyone to stay safe and maintain good oral hygiene. Let’s all do our part in keeping the community and ourselves healthy. 

Should you wish to gain a deeper understanding of dental fillings or inlays & onlays, you can click these links respectively to read our previously published article.

Else, if you liked this article, you can click here to read other oral health related articles posted on our blog.  Additionally, if you have any questions regarding tooth filling or other oral health related matters, feel free to drop Dr Ryan a message here

Dr Ryan and the Vivid Dental Team wishes everyone a pleasant and virus-free day ahead!


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