What Are the Differences Between Dental Inlays and Dental Fillings?

Dental Restorations Santa Ana, CA

If a dentist discovers you have a cavity, you may need a filling or dental inlay to support your oral health. What is the difference between these dental treatments? Because you may have a say in which option you choose, it helps to understand the similarities and differences between the two.

Cavity treatment options

Depending on the size and location of a dental cavity, a dentist may recommend different treatments.


Fillings are a basic restoration remedy for cavities. The dentist removes the decayed portion of your tooth and fills it with either an amalgam or composite material. If you have a smaller cavity, your dentist could recommend a filling over an inlay. You may also prefer the quick turnaround time for a filler, often taking a single appointment. Once your dentist finishes your filling, you have a natural bite again.

One disadvantage of fillings is extreme hot or cold can expand the material in your mouth. If that happens, you could suffer a painful crack in the tooth. Ask your dentist what you should do to protect your filling.


If you have a large cavity, your dentist may recommend an inlay over a filling. You could also be a candidate for an inlay if the cavity is in the center of your molar or another chewing surface. For this restoration option, your dentist typically takes an impression of the damaged tooth and sends it to a dental lab, which creates an inlay specifically for your cavity. Depending on your dentist and the technology used, you may instead be able to get a 3D printing of your inlay done in the office as you wait. The great thing about this advanced technology is you do not have to use a temporary inlay while you wait for a permanent one.

As with a filling, your dentist uses a drill or laser to remove the cavity before setting the inlay. One major difference between fillings and inlays is the dentist cements an inlay into position inside your tooth. Sealing the inlay in place improves your tooth rather than weakens it. That also means you do not have to worry as much about the dental inlay failing.

Because inlays contain composite materials or porcelain stronger than fillings, they can cost more. The trade-off is that inlays usually last longer.

Care for inlays and fillings

No matter which tooth restoration option you choose, proper oral hygiene and other habits can help them last as long as possible. Brush twice a day and floss, and ask your dentist for other recommendations for any specific dental health issues you have. If your dentist recommends a follow-up visit after you get your fillings or inlay, keep your appointment.

Reduce wear and tear on your fillings or inlays by refraining from grinding your teeth, which could damage or crack your restoration. Avoid chewy and hard foods, and ask your dentist for a nightguard if you grind your teeth at night.


Talk with your dentist about whether you are better suited for a dental inlay or filling to repair a cavity. Consider your current and future oral health when deciding between the two.

Request an appointment here: https://www.brightsmilesantaana.com or call Bright Smile Dental at (714) 361-9308 for an appointment in our Santa Ana office.

Check out what others are saying about our dental services on Yelp: Dental Inlay in Santa Ana, CA.

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