Metamerism and Teeth

Metamerism and Teeth

One of the great challenges in dentistry is treating a single front tooth. Our teeth are made up of a pulp covered by dentin with an enamel outer layer. This enamel layer is what we see, what gives teeth its white color (or “whitish” if they have become yellow over time). What we perceive is from how the light interacts with the enamel, the light reflecting and refracting (or bending). “Perception is everything.”


Different Materials Act Differently

In dentistry, teeth are fixed with bonded composite resin, porcelain fused to metal crowns or all-porcelain crowns and veneers. While it may seem simple, it is very difficult to get teeth to match perfectly, and if perfection is a goal it may be best to get used to disappointment.

It is not unusual to have a fee in a dental office that is higher for front teeth than in the back. Often the fee from the lab is increased and the likelihood of multiple tries (appointments) to “get it right.” Sometimes different brands of porcelain match a person better than others, so finding the right material is important as well.


Different light sources interact differently with different materials. This means that it is possible that the single crown your dentist placed on your front tooth matched VERY well in the light of the dental office, but when you got home, there was a noticeable difference.


If most of your time is spent in a single light source area, then matching the color should be done in THAT condition. This is also why buying clothes in a store may mislead us, as in the example:

Number of Teeth Treated in a Smile Makeover

This is one of the reasons that Dr Timmerman often suggests treating ALL teeth that show when smiling. If you ONLY do one or two teeth, metamerism may be a dramatic factor. If ALL teeth are the same material, this issue becomes moot. For some reason, many people (dentists included) treatment plan 6 teeth for a smile makeover. This is rarely adequate, as the investment to do this treatment is enough that most often people want whiter teeth than they started with (if you are going to go thru with all of this, might as well, right?). Rarely is a person only showing just 6 teeth, and unless they are going to bleach the others (and honestly even IF you bleach the others), the shift in color in different light will be unsatisfactory.

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