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What does a dental inlay look like?

Ceramic inlays are a key solution for repairing moderately damaged or decayed teeth. Their usage offers an excellent blend of durability, aesthetics, and function. However, many patients often wonder, “What does a dental inlay look like?” This article seeks to clarify inlays, discussing their appearance, application, and benefits in detail.

What exactly is a dental inlay?

Inlays (and onlays and overlays) are a type of dental restoration used to repair the chewing surface of a tooth that has suffered moderate damage or decay, usually in the form of a cavity. Unlike fillings that are moulded into place within the cavity of a tooth, inlays are typically crafted in a dental laboratory before being bonded to the tooth, creating a seamless blend with the natural structure. In terms of appearance, they mimic the natural colour and texture of your tooth, making them virtually indistinguishable from the rest of your teeth. Inlays restore a smaller amount of a tooth, onlays cover at least one tooth cusp and overlays cover all the cusps, i.e., the whole chewing surface of a tooth.

The fabrication process

Step 1: Initial consultation and preparation of the tooth

The journey to getting a dental inlay begins with a comprehensive consultation at our Wimpole Street Dental Clinic. This allows our dental professionals to assess your oral health and determine whether an inlay is the most suitable treatment option for you.

Once the decision for an inlay is made, we begin the process of tooth preparation. Under local anaesthesia, our dentist removes the decayed or damaged portions of the tooth. It’s a careful procedure designed to preserve as much of the healthy tooth structure as possible. The resulting exposed dentine is then covered with composite material.

Step 2: Taking the impression

The next step involves taking a highly accurate impression of the prepared tooth and the surrounding teeth. This impression is then sent to a dental laboratory where your custom inlay will be crafted. The impression ensures that your inlay will align perfectly with your bite and match the contours of your tooth, guaranteeing a natural look and feel.

Step 3: Placing a temporary inlay

While your inlay is being fabricated, which can take about 2 weeks, a temporary inlay is placed on the prepared tooth. This temporary cover is essential to protect the tooth from damage and sensitivity, and to maintain functionality and aesthetics.

Step 4: The inlay fitting appointment

When your dental inlay is ready, you will return to our clinic for the final fitting. During this visit, our dentist will first remove the temporary inlay, then thoroughly clean the tooth to ensure there’s no debris that could interfere with the bonding process.

After this, the dentist will place the inlay onto your tooth to ensure it fits perfectly. It’s important that the inlay not only fits the tooth but aligns with your bite to prevent any discomfort or damage. If needed, minor adjustments are made at this stage.

Step 5: Bonding the inlay

Once a perfect fit is ensured, the dental inlay is bonded to the tooth with a strong dental adhesive. This bonding process ensures that the inlay stays securely in place and functions like a natural part of your tooth.

Step 6: Polishing for a seamless appearance

Finally, the dentist will polish the inlay and the surrounding tooth to ensure a smooth and natural finish. This polishing step is key to giving the inlay the same shine as the rest of your teeth, making it virtually invisible to the eye.

Through this detailed and meticulous process, dental inlays restore both function and aesthetics to damaged teeth, helping you maintain your best possible oral health.

Dental inlay material choices

Dental inlays can be made from different materials, each offering unique advantages. Common choices are composite resin, porcelain, and gold. Composite resin and porcelain inlays are colour-matched to the rest of your teeth, making them an excellent choice for those who want a natural-looking restoration. Gold inlays, though less visually seamless, are extremely durable and thus often preferred for back teeth restorations.

Benefits and longevity of dental inlays

Dental inlays provide a host of benefits, setting them apart from other forms of restorative dentistry. These advantages can be categorised into aesthetic, functional, and health-related benefits. Here’s a closer look:

Aesthetic benefits:

  • Natural Appearance: Dental inlays are tailored to match the colour, shape, and size of your teeth. This customisation ensures they blend in seamlessly with your smile, making them virtually undetectable.
  • Custom Craftsmanship: Each inlay is carefully crafted in a dental laboratory based on the unique impression of your tooth, further enhancing its natural appearance.

Functional benefits:

  • Strength and Durability: Inlays are constructed from robust materials like porcelain, composite resin, or gold. When properly cared for, dental inlays can last up to 30 years, according to a study by the British Dental Journal. This longevity surpasses traditional fillings, which often need to be replaced every 10 to 15 years.
  • Improved Tooth Function: By filling the cavity or damaged area, dental inlays restore the natural function of the tooth, allowing you to chew and speak normally again.
  • Fit and Comfort: Unlike fillings that can shrink or expand with temperature changes, dental inlays maintain their size and shape, providing a comfortable, long-lasting fit.

Health-related benefits:

  • Preservation of Healthy Tooth Structure: During the installation process, only the damaged or decayed portion of the tooth is removed. The inlay then precisely fits into the prepared area, preserving the maximum amount of healthy tooth structure.
  • Prevention of Further Decay: Dental inlays seal off spaces where bacteria could potentially enter, thus reducing the risk of further decay and damage.
  • Enhanced Oral Hygiene: By sealing off crevices, dental inlays prevent food particles from getting trapped, making it easier to maintain oral hygiene and reducing the risk of gum diseases.

By offering a blend of aesthetic, functional, and health-related benefits, dental inlays are a comprehensive solution for restoring damaged or decayed teeth.


Dental inlays, with their custom-fit design, natural appearance, and long-lasting durability, are an exceptional solution for restoring the health and aesthetics of your teeth. If you’re dealing with tooth damage or decay, and curious about what a dental inlay looks like, we at the Wimpole Street Dental Clinic in London would be more than happy to guide you through the process, ensuring you regain your beautiful smile with confidence.


Created: 31/7/2023

Clinically reviewed by: Prof Dr Christian Mehl

Written by: Dr Raul Costa

Dr Raul Costa

About the author:

Dr Raul Costa is a restorative dentist with a unique set of skills for dental aesthetics and a drive for ultra-conservative techniques. He qualified from the Lisbon Dental School in 2005 and has been practicing in London since 2008. He works with world-renowned ceramists in order to deliver natural-looking, life-like, crowns and veneers. He is also particularly talented and experienced with composite bondings and implant-supported restorations.