An inlay is a small setting within the biting surface of the tooth. An onlay is a facing which restores and replaces the whole biting surface of the tooth. Inlays & onlays can be made of either ceramic (including porcelain) or gold.
Ceramics offer the advantage that they can be perfectly shade matched to the remaining tooth and also that it can be chemically bonded to the tooth, making it very strong. Gold offers the advantage that it can be made very thin and still keep its strength, and so can be useful in back teeth where there is very little space to restore the tooth.
Onlays offer the advantage of requiring less tooth cutting than for crowns, therefore preserve as much natural tooth surface as possible whilst being virtually as strong as crowns.
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