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Considering Dental Onlays vs. Traditional Fillings: Pros & Cons

by | Jun 1, 2023 | Cosmetic Dentistry

Dental Onlays

When it comes to dental restorations, the options available to patients have evolved significantly over the years. Dental fillings have been the go-to solution for treating tooth decay for a long time. However, with advancements in dentistry, dental onlays have emerged as an alternative to traditional fillings. In this article, we will explore the pros and cons of dental onlays compared to traditional fillings, helping you decide which option may be best for you.

Traditional Fillings:

Traditional dental fillings, commonly known as amalgam or composite fillings, have been widely used for decades. These fillings are typically made of materials such as silver or a tooth-colored composite resin. Here are the pros and cons of traditional fillings:


  1. Cost-effective: Traditional fillings are generally more affordable than dental onlays, making them an attractive option for patients on a budget.
  2. Quick and straightforward procedure: Filling a cavity with traditional fillings is a relatively quick and straightforward process. Dentists can complete the procedure in a single visit, saving both time and effort for patients.
  3. Suitable for small to medium-sized cavities: Traditional fillings work well for treating small to medium-sized cavities that haven’t caused extensive damage to the tooth structure.


  1. Esthetics: Amalgam fillings are silver in color, which can be noticeable when placed in visible areas of the mouth. Although composite fillings are tooth-colored, they may not provide the same level of esthetics as dental onlays.
  2. Limited durability: Traditional fillings may not be as durable as dental onlays, especially when used for larger cavities. Over time, fillings can wear down, crack, or break, requiring replacement.

Dental Onlays:

Dental onlays, also known as partial crowns, are an alternative to traditional fillings that provide a more extensive restoration for teeth with moderate to large cavities. Onlays are typically made from porcelain or composite resin materials and are custom-made in a dental laboratory. Let’s explore the pros and cons of dental onlays:


  1. Aesthetic appeal: Dental onlays are custom-made to match your teeth’ natural color and shape, providing a more aesthetically pleasing result than traditional fillings. They blend seamlessly with your existing teeth, enhancing your smile.
  2. Longevity: Dental onlays are more durable and long-lasting than traditional fillings. They are bonded to the tooth surface, providing strength and stability. With proper care, onlays can last for many years, minimizing the need for frequent replacements.
  3. Preserves natural tooth structure: Unlike traditional fillings, which require the removal of healthy tooth structure to accommodate the filling material, dental onlays preserve more of the natural tooth structure. This conservative approach helps maintain the overall strength and integrity of the tooth.


  1. Higher cost: Dental onlays tend to be more expensive than traditional fillings due to the materials used and the additional laboratory work involved in creating custom restorations.
  2. Multiple appointments: Getting a dental onlay requires numerous visits to the dentist. During the first visit, the tooth is prepared, and impressions are taken to fabricate the onlay. A temporary filling is placed while the onlay is being made. The onlay is fitted and permanently bonded to the tooth in the second visit.
  3. Not suitable for all cavities: Dental onlays are primarily recommended for moderate to large cavities with extensive damage but still have enough healthy tooth structure to support the restoration. In cases where the tooth structure is severely compromised, a dental crown may be a more appropriate option.


When considering dental restorations, weighing the pros and cons of each option is essential. Traditional fillings are a cost-effective and time-efficient solution for smaller cavities, while dental onlays offer superior aesthetics, durability, and preservation of natural tooth structure. Ultimately, the choice between onlays and traditional fillings depends on the size and location of the cavity, your budget, and your esthetic preferences. Consulting with your dentist will help you make an informed decision tailored to your specific dental needs and goals. Remember, maintaining good oral hygiene practices and regular dental check-ups are essential for the longevity of any dental restoration.

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