A dental inlay is a type of restoration that typically looks like natural teeth and fixes an existing tooth that is too damaged to support a tooth filling, but not so much that it needs a dental crown. It covers the chewing surface between the cusps, while onlays restore one or more fractured cusps.
A dentist may choose from materials such as gold, tooth-colored composite resin and porcelain to create an inlay, depending on your choice of aesthetic appeal, longevity and your budget. Regardless of the material your dentist recommends, inlays are often more durable than amalgam or composite fillings, less expensive than dental crowns and are not likely to have complications during the procedure.
When a tooth is too damaged to support a tooth filling but not damaged enough for a dental crown, you end up somewhere in the middle. Capping a damaged tooth unnecessarily with a dental crown removes more tooth structure than needed. But a large dental filling can weaken the remaining structure of the tooth, causing the tooth to break, crack or eventually need a root canal.
Both dental inlays and dental onlays are intended to repair the tooth's chewing surface, and in some cases, repair teeth with other restoration options: the dental filling, which fills a hole in the tooth, and the dental crown, which covers most of the tooth.