Comparing Inlays and Onlays to Traditional Cavity Filling Treatment

Whether it’s from irregular brushing, forgetting to floss, deeply grooved teeth, or any number of other causes, there are millions of Americans with cavities. In fact, the Center for Disease Control’s (CDC) records show that 78% of Americans have had a cavity treated with a traditional dental filling. Thankfully, there are proven treatments to remove cavities and tooth decay.

But what if your dentist told you that your filling could bring about other dental complications? Would you still want a filling?

Most people have heard of or seen fillings, but what they don’t know is that this cavity treatment can weaken the stability of the natural tooth. As a dentistry expert believes that, ultraviolet (UV) light used to solidify the filling material can weaken a person’s natural tooth by up to 50%.

There is, however, an alternate treatment that not only provides a better fitted filling, but also strengthens the tooth’s stability rather than deteriorating it. This treatment is known as inlay and onlay dental treatment or indirect fillings.


Many patients look for fast results when it comes to treating cavities. Nobody wants to deal with the toothaches or tooth decay any longer than they have to. Traditional fillings are virtually always done in a single dental appointment. Although this provides fast results for patients, they are not always getting the best treatment. Traditional fillings are placed manually without much more aid than a magnifying glass can provide to the naked eye. This leaves room for error in the filling mold, which can lead to an imperfect chewing surface and even damages to healthy tooth enamel.

In contrast to this method, inlays/onlays utilize computerized mapping programs that generate a precise filling mold. After the dentist takes an impression of the damaged tooth area, the impression is sent to a dental lab for precision crafting of the filling mold. On the next dental appointment, the patient receives a perfectly fitted mold cemented to the natural tooth with a sturdy resin.

“Inlays and onlays are a necessary step in cavity treatment and are perfect examples of the evolutions occurring in dentistry,” says a dentistry expert. “Many treatments are being improved or even replaced by computer-aided dental techniques. Traditional fillings, for example, can’t match the precision inlay and onlay treatment provides.”

Inlays/onlays produce a perfect chewing surface and a flawless esthetically correct tooth restorative. Though inlay/onlay treatment often takes two appointments due to this extra step, it results in far better crafted fillings. A more precisely fitted mold allows for better cleaning during brushing and flossing. This helps prevent any plaque from building up in weak parts of a filling, which further promotes good hygiene notes.

According to The Consumer Guide to Dentistry, inlay/onlay treatment preserves as much healthy tooth as possible while restoring decayed tooth areas, which preserves the longevity of the tooth.


While traditional fillings can weaken the very tooth means to preserve, inlay/onlay cavity treatment can make teeth stronger. This is due to the quality materials used for the filling mold and the precise fitting of the mold. Inlays/onlays are either crafted using an enamel-colored porcelain or gold. Fillings can be made with a composite, silver amalgam, or porcelain.

If the tooth becomes weakened from the filling, patients may wind up losing their tooth even though the cavity and tooth decay has been treated.

Fillings may fix the immediate problem, but a root canal, dental bridge, dental implant or other invasive and permanent restorative treatment may become necessary once that tooth starts to rot.

In addition to weakening the tooth, amalgam fillings can expose patients to toxic materials. Though the American Dental Association (ADA) reports that the amalgam fillings are harmless to patients, studies have shown that these fillings can expose patients to low levels of mercury.

Natural Look

At some point or another, most people have seen someone else’s fillings. That’s because amalgam and silver fillings can look like food stuck to teeth. Fortunately, both traditional fillings and inlays/onlays can be crafted in tooth-colored porcelain. However, over time inlays/onlays are more likely to resist staining. This preserves the look of a healthy, natural smile longer than traditional fillings.