The way to communicate shade and texture to the laboratory technician can vary depending on where you are working in the mouth.

dentist communicating shade and texture with lab technician

In the posterior part of the mouth, it is not uncommon to simply write down the requested shade on the lab script and call it a day. However, in the anterior esthetic zone, this practice almost always falls short. I’m quite certain I have never seen a tooth that perfectly matches the shade guide.   

So, in order to communicate shade and texture, I feel that the use of digital photography is essential. Given that shade and texture are completely different, the photos needed to communicate them must be taken differently as well. 

shade and texture photos

Photography for communicating shade

When taking a photo for shade communication, you want to remove the flash reflection from the tooth as best you can, or at least move the reflection to a different part of the tooth.

Instead of orienting the camera perpendicular to the tooth, the camera must be oriented from above (approximately 20 degrees).

communicating tooth shade to lab technician

This moves the flash to the cervical area of the tooth to better show the true shade within the body of the tooth. 

The shade tabs are then held in the same plane of space as the tooth for the photo.

determining tooth shade

Today, accurate shade information can also be communicated with “shade taking” devices; however, it must be noted that these devices are not reliable for communicating sub-surface color, translucency and effects.  

Showing surface texture through photos

Communicating the surface texture is actually accomplished in the opposite way that shade is communicated. When communicating texture, you actually want the flash reflection in the photo. This is achieved by orienting the camera perpendicular to the tooth.

determining and communicating tooth surface texture

Photography is really the only way to communicate texture to the technician. If photography is not used, the only thing the technician can use to determine how much texture to place in the restoration is the texture of the stone model. As can be seen in the figure above, when looking at the stone model, it appears as if the teeth don't have any surface texture at all, but the clinical photo reveals otherwise. 

The reality is that it doesn't take much surface texture to create reflection on the tooth, and photography is best way that this surface can be communicated.

The next time you are taking photos to communicate shade and surface texture, make sure you note the angulation of the camera.

Gregg Kinzer, D.D.S., M.S., Spear Faculty and Contributing Author

(Click this link for more dentistry articles by Dr. Gregg Kinzer.)