Tooth Color

Tooth color is complex. There are colors on the surface of the tooth and colors within the tooth. The enamel itself is fairly translucent and it imparts a little color. The dentin is not as translucent and imparts more color, but it also transmits light. The surface texture of a tooth also has a strong impact on the perceived color. Shiny highlights can make a tooth appear brighter than it is.

Some of the strongest complaints we get from people who e-mail us is that their dentist didn’t get the color of the tooth right. For many dentists, this is definitely a weak spot. A little about this subject is taught in dental school, but for a dentist to really understand it requires special courses, a strong desire to improve his or her esthetic skills, and a certain amount of natural aptitude. A good cosmetic dentist needs to master this subject.

The basic parameters of color are hue, saturation, and luminence. The dentist needs to add to this an expert understanding of translucency, reflectivity, and transmission. It isn’t an easy subject.

A Typical Example of a Tooth Color Mistake

A key skill for an expert cosmetic dentist is to understand and use tooth color correctly. Photos illustrate the problems many dentists have with color.

This case was done by Nashville cosmetic dentist Dr. Thomas Nabors.

Before pictures


This photo represents the attempt of a dentist to match a crown on one front tooth to the adjacent natural tooth.

Click on the photo to see a close up picture of this case.

After pictures


This is the same case, after removal of the crown and skillful color-matching by an expert cosmetic dentist.

Click on the photo to see a close up picture of these teeth.