Onlay Basics

Procedure Description:

Made of a strong, natural-looking material, such as porcelain, onlays are larger restorations, extending over one or more sides of your tooth, and can be used similar to a crown or cap. A conservative tooth restoration that requires far less tooth removal than its metal counterpart, an onlay increases tooth strength and provides enduring protection for the tooth.

Unlike metal fillings, an onlay can often be used to repair only the damaged portion of the tooth, leaving much more of the original tooth structure intact.

How It's Done

If a cavity is detected in a dental exam, or if you have a failing metal filling or crown, and the decay extends beyond the cusp of the tooth, an onlay will be used to restore the tooth to health. The dentist will first take an impression of the tooth, then send the impression to an outside lab. The lab will custom build the onlay to fit the patient's tooth exactly. The patient will be fitted with a temporary inlay in the interim.

When the lab returns the onlay to the dentist, he or she will remove the temporary restoration, and bond the permanent onlay to the tooth.


Typically no advanced technology is necessary to prepare and place an inlay.

Recovery Expectations:

Recovery from the preparation for the temporary onlays as well as the bonding of the final restoration are similar to that of having a cavity filled. The patient may experience some discomfort or tenderness in the area. Ibuprofen can reduce the symptoms.


While complications from an inlay are unlikely, it is possible that the tooth preparation may take the dentist very close to the nerve of the tooth. This may result in some sensitivity, and may disturb the nerves so that a root canal is required.

Am I a Candidate:

If you have a cavity that extends beyond or over the cusp of your tooth, or if you have a failing metal amalgam or crown that covers one or more cusp(s) of your tooth, you are a candidate for an onlay.


The cost for an onlay varies with the doctor's training and the cost of the laboratory, but typically ranges from $650 to $1,200.