Dental inlays are a type of indirect dental restorations. This means they are not constructed directly in the mouth like conventional fillings (composite resins and amalgams). Instead, they are manufactured outside of the mouth in a dental laboratory and later cemented on the tooth. Dental inlays are also called intracoronal restorations. As opposed to crowns or veneers which are cemented outside of the tooth´s surface, dental inlays are placed within the contours of a cavity in the tooth.
Simply stated, inlays are fillings that are constructed outside of the mouth through a mold or impression and later cemented on the tooth. Inlays are indicated when the tooth is too damaged to be considered restorable for a direct filling, but not so damage as to require a crown. This is an intermediate restoration in terms of how invasive it is for tooth structure.
In the past, inlays were frequently used, made primarily of gold. These are the famous “gold fillings” that we often used to see and were the only alternative to very large amalgam restorations that were at risk of fracture. Today, due to cosmetic reasons and high cost, gold restorations are seldom used. Also, new materials and techniques have been developed that have improved the clinical outcome of these restorations. Unlike metals that could only be cemented to the tooth structure, newer ceramic and polymeric materials can be adhered chemically. This characteristic and the high esthetic potential of inlays have made these restorations more common. Furthermore, they have a very high success rate and longevity, while protecting teeth from diverse forces and adverse situations.