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Shade Basics – Shade Blending and Metamerism

Once you’ve got the camera, lenses and flash pack, it’s time to learn how to effectively shoot teeth and shade tabs in your practice. This is a crucial step; without the proper lighting, patients might wonder why the color of their restorations look as if they don’t fit in with nearby natural teeth. While you can try explaining to them that the change in light source may be to blame for the optical illusion, the pictures will already have spoken for you – and your practice’s reputation.

In today’s video, Mitch Bourgeois, CDT, introduces you to some key terminology and provides you with general guidelines to help make your shade photography look amazing and uniform before the patient sees it.


Metamerism—What It Means and How To Control It

When it comes to difficult shade matching, one type of tooth rules them all: the single central tooth. Unlike tooth restorations that are done in pairs (such as 8 & 9 or 7 &10), the single central ceramics (especially in the anterior) will never quite match up to the natural complementary tooth…no matter how hard you try.

This frustrating phenomenon is known in the scientific realm as Metamerism. Metamerism is the process by which two like objects (teeth) made of different compositions (ceramic vs natural) will look slightly different under various light conditions. How a ceramic tooth looks in natural sunlight will not be what they look like in fluorescent lighting, for example. The same goes for natural teeth. If you put the two next to each other, your eyes will always catch the subtle differences in shade and tone.

That’s why shade matching, while ideal, shouldn’t be the goal when metamerism is concerned. What are we left with?

The Effectiveness of Shade Blending

5500K light compared to 2700K and 3500K

Select lighting rated at 5500 K, or full-spectrum, when taking shade photos.

When a perfect match just isn’t possible, your lighting strategy must turn to shade blending. In this instance, you are doing the best you can given your conditions to provide a uniform lighting experience from initial consultation to post-treatment.

How does shade blending work on a practical level? Whenever possible, we recommend taking a shade photo under 5500 K color corrected lighting. This mimics natural sunlight and will look like a close match in many other lighting conditions.

In the end, no camera or lighting setup can achieve 100% shade matching for adjacent teeth made of different materials. However, with the general awareness of Metamerism, and the know-how to account for it in your lighting choices, you’re well on your way to delivering pictures your patients will never find fault with again.

In the next video (coming soon), we’ll go into more detail about how the lighting in your room affects your shade blending and photos.

Here’s more from the Shade Basics series, including videos:

  • Introduction
  • Camera and Flash
  • Lighting Changes Everything (coming soon)
  • Bright Gloves: How Glove Color Can Change Your Shade Photos (coming soon)
  • Dehydration of Teeth Can Change Color Value (coming this summer)
  • How to Use and Read the Vita 3-D Shade Guide (coming this summer)