Onlay vs Crown — Pros and Cons

Crown vs Onlay — what do you pick and why? This is one of the most common questions in dentistry, and while the answer to it might be straightforward when you get to the bottom of it, it’s still manifold enough to warrant some kind of elaboration. Today, we’re looking at the pros and cons of both dental crowns and Onlays, seeing who needs them, and comparing them in regards to longevity.

If by the end of the article, you feel like you need more information, or if you need tooth crowns, click here for details and book your appointment if you’re in the Bloomingdale, IL, area.

What Is the Difference Between a Tooth Crown and an Onlay?

Both crowns and onlays serve the same purpose — they restore a single tooth. Basically, your dentist will use either of those if fillings are not a viable option (for example, if a huge chunk of the tooth is damaged). But which one will they choose?

In short, you’re more likely to get a crown if you need the biting surface or the whole tooth replaced. On the other hand, if only the cusp needs replacing, the dentist will opt for an onlay (or an inlay if only a part of the cusp is damaged).

So, onlays are a better solution for minor restorative procedures, and crowns are used when there’s no salvaging the tooth. That means that onlays are less expensive, too, which is why a lot of people opt for them whenever possible.

Onlay vs Crown Longevity

The short and less informative answer here is that the longevity of both tooth crowns and onlays is not set in stone. They might last you a long time, or they might need replacing in only a few years.

However, we can make some generalizations based on statistics and say that dental onlays last about a decade, while crowns can last even longer, that is, up to fifteen years. However, crowns often last much shorter, i.e., five or so years.

What determines their longevity? It’s the same as with natural teeth: the better care you take of them, the more they last. In other words, you’ll need to up your dental hygiene game and pay more attention to your diet. Tough and hard foods, like some types of candy, will potentially damage your crowns and onlays.

Of course, sweet food leads to tooth decay as well, thanks to all the sugar it’s packed with. Remember: you still have some of your natural teeth underneath your onlay. If it gets damaged or starts decaying, you’ll have even more problems to deal with.

In addition to maintaining a healthy diet and doing your best to keep your oral hygiene at desirable levels, you should try to get rid of some bad habits, such as:

  • Teeth grinding
  • Biting your nails, pencils, etc.
  • Using your teeth as tools when opening packages, bottles, etc.

Pros and Cons

Both onlays and crowns come with a bunch of pros and cons. If you have the freedom to choose between them, you might want to consider the following:

The Pros and Cons of Dental Crowns


  • Extremely durable
  • Can restore large portions of the tooth
  • Appears natural
  • Offers a lot of protection to what’s left of the natural tooth


  • More expensive than onlays (some cost up to $3,000)
  • The procedure takes longer when you’re getting them installed and often requires more than one appointment
  • You might experience a lot of sensitivity in the area after the procedure
  • Can cause allergic reactions

The pros and Cons of Onlays


  • Durable, just like crowns
  • Can be used to replace bits of the tooth
  • Lowers the chances of further tooth decay
  • More affordable than crowns
  • Take less time to install


  • Can sometimes be difficult to install, depending on the state of the tooth
  • Can cause allergic reactions
  • Can chip and crack

How Are Crowns Installed?

The dental crown installation can be a bit long and tedious, and you’ll need way more preparation than you would get an onlay. It includes:

  • Scheduling a check-up and getting X-Rays
  • Receiving local anesthesia 
  • Having the damaged areas of the tooth removed (often requiring a root canal if there are bacteria inside the tooth)
  • Shaving down the tooth to accommodate the crown
  • Creating a custom fit for your tooth in a separate office or laboratory (you will receive a temporary crown to last you until the next appointment)
  • Placing the crown and fixing it in place

How Are Onlays Installed?

Onlays are much easier to install. The procedure includes:

  • Numbing the area with local anesthetics
  • Removing any tooth decay and damaged areas of the tooth
  • Creating an impression of your tooth and installing a temporary only until your next visit
  • Fitting the permanent onlay during your next appointment

Do Crowns and Onlays Improve Your Appearance?

Yes — your appearance will improve after restorative dentistry, especially if you get crowns. Crowns look natural, matching your teeth completely and giving you more excuses to smile more often. In fact, many people opt for crowns when treating misshapen or crooked teeth, as they’re among the most long-lasting and natural-looking solutions.

Should You See a Dentist After Getting Onlays or Crowns?

Crowns and onlays usually don’t result in problems, but there’s always a chance that something might go wrong. We’re not talking about expected difficulties that follow the procedure, such as sensitivity to hot and cold. We’re talking about other problems, including pain and fever.

If you notice any troubling symptoms and they don’t disappear after a day or two, you should contact your dentist and book an appointment immediately. Pain, fever, as well as other symptoms, such as redness, swelling, and itching, can indicate an infection or an allergic reaction. To make sure your teeth remain healthy, listen to your dentist’s advice and make sure you stick to your oral hygiene routine.