What Are the Differences Between an Onlays, Inlays, and a Veneers?


Finding the Best Long-term Solution for Your Oral Health

Whether you’re looking into restorative or cosmetic dentistry treatments, it’s best for your long-term oral health to try to retain as much natural tooth structure as you can. If your tooth has been damaged by decay, you’re likely familiar with two very common treatment options: dental fillings or crowns. Fillings are used to treat minor spots of decay, while dental crowns are one of the best treatments available to restore the function, health, and the appearance of a severely damaged tooth.

And there’s more good news: there are other options for improving the function and appearance of your teeth. Inlays, onlays, and veneers can all be used to restore your tooth. You may have heard of veneers, but you might not have heard of an inlay or an onlay, so you might not know the differences between these three treatments. To help you understand each treatment, we’ve broken down each one.

What are inlays, onlays, and veneers?

Inlays, onlays, and veneers are all dental restorations that cover part of a tooth’s surface instead of covering the entire tooth such as a dental crown does. Inlays only cover the chewing surface of your tooth and leave the cusps (which are its raised edges and sides) of your tooth unaffected. Onlays are very similar, but they cover one of your tooth’s cusps and sides in addition to its chewing surface. This earns it the rather descriptive title, “partial crown.” In contrast, veneers are tooth-shaped porcelain shells that adhere to the front surface of your teeth. Inlays, onlays, and veneers are all often made from porcelain and are custom made for your mouth. This enables inlays and onlays to fit the shape of your natural tooth and its chewing surface so that your bite feels just as natural as your restored tooth looks.

Your restored tooth will look completely natural because Dr. Tomasik can match the shade of the inlays or onlays to the shade of your natural teeth, allowing them to blend in with the rest of your smile. Since they don’t have to mold to the chewing surface of your teeth as closely, porcelain veneers can also be used to change the shape and size of your teeth considerably, transforming the appearance of a single tooth or your entire smile.

What are they used to treat?

All three treatments can be used in both restorative and cosmetic dentistry. Inlays and onlays are most frequently used to treat decay that’s too advanced to be resolved with a simple filling but not major enough to require a dental crown. When placed on your tooth, an inlay or onlay seals the vulnerable part of your tooth off and works to prevent future decay or injury. They can also be used to treat a cracked or broken tooth, restoring its function, biting power, and appearance all at once.

Veneers are most often used in cosmetic dentistry to improve the appearance of your smile. They can cover stains, close gaps in your smile, and make slightly crooked teeth appear straighter. They can even transform the entire appearance of your smile by changing the shape and size of your teeth. Veneers help treat more than surface-level issues, however, as they can also be placed on teeth that have been chipped, cracked, or suffered from enamel erosion. Since they’re placed over the top of your enamel, they act as a shield against decay and reduce tooth sensitivity from enamel erosion. This makes them ideal to restore damage to the front of your teeth or to resolve issues with their appearance.

How do I know which option fits my needs?

Which option is best for you will depend on the location of the damage or cosmetic issue you’d like to repair as well as the extent of that issue. Since it’s generally best to retain as much of your tooth’s natural structure as possible, veneers are likely best if you simply need repairs on the front surface of your teeth. Dr. Tomasik only needs to remove a thin layer of enamel from your teeth to place them, so they involve removing the least amount of your natural tooth. Similarly, if there’s only damage to the chewing surface of your tooth, an inlay is likely a better option than an onlay or a full crown.

The biggest exception is if you have a high probability of suffering from additional decay in that tooth due to a preexisting condition. In this case, it may be better to go ahead and secure a crown onto the tooth to protect it from future decay. Everyone’s oral health is different, so it’s always best to consult with Dr. Tomasik about which options he thinks will work best for you before you reach a final decision.

When is the right time to get treatment?

Ideally, your gums should be healthy before you undergo any dental treatments. If you’re dealing with an immediate problem from tooth decay or a cracked tooth that can easily lead to decay, however, the answer is to get treatment as soon as possible. If you leave the tooth untreated, the problem will only worsen. When there isn’t a pressing injury, you can seek treatment whenever you want! If your teeth are stained, however, and you think you may be interested in whitening them at some point, we recommend that you get a professional whitening treatment before you get your restoration. The porcelain of your inlay, onlay, or veneer won’t change colors if you whiten your teeth in the future, so it could easily look yellow in comparison to your newly whitened teeth. As a result, it’s best to whiten your teeth first and match your restoration to their new shade.

Each of these treatments has slightly different applications, but they all have the same goal—restoring the short- and long-term function, health, and appearance of your smile. Despite this, there’s a lot of information to unpack regarding these treatment options and what is best for your unique case. If you’re interested in learning more about which option is right for you, feel free to schedule an appointment at our office near Bee Cave and Lakeway at any time.