Identifying the whitest shade of teeth is often of interest to people who are having restorative or cosmetic dentistry work done and who are being asked to choose a target shade. While some clients might want to match restorative dental crowns, bridges, and veneers to their natural teeth, others prefer to have their restorations made in a lighter shade of white.
To help clients understand the wide range of natural and bleached tooth shades available, we've put together a short guide to the VITA Classical Shade Guide along with tips for choosing the best tooth color for professional teeth whitening and restorations.
Whitest Natural Tooth Shade
The VITA Classical Shade Guide was created in 1956 as a reference for cosmetic dentists. This guide lays out four basic natural tooth colors—indicated by a letter—and three to five levels of progressive tooth shade within each of these hues—indicated by a number. The 16 individual tooth shades in the guide are:
A—reddish brown: A1, A2, A3, A3.5, A4
B—reddish yellow: B1, B2, B3, B4
C—gray colors: C1, C2, C3, C4
D—reddish-gray: D1, D2, D3
Within each letter group, the first shades are the lightest, progressing to the darker shades as the number increases. For example, A1 is lighter than A2 and B1 is lighter than B2.
A1 vs B1 Tooth Color
Logically, one might think that A1 is the whitest tooth shade because A is the first letter in the alphabet. However, the B1 tooth shade is actually the lightest, followed by A1. This is by virtue of its coloring (reddish yellow) as opposed to the coloring of A teeth (reddish brown).
In order, the whitest shades of natural teeth are:
If you're planning to get your teeth whitened professionally and are trying to choose a teeth-whitening shade, B1 and A1 are both excellent choices. They represent the whitest tooth shades that occur in nature—so they look natural—while giving you a radiant, healthy-looking smile.
For clients who want more subtle results from teeth whitening services and restorations like porcelain crowns and bridges, ceramic fillings, and porcelain veneers, consider B2 or A2. While still appearing beautifully light and bright, these shades are slightly more common in the untreated adult populace—making them great choices for natural-looking veneers.
Artificial Tooth Shades
Demand for even whiter teeth grew with the rise of Hollywood celebrity culture, leading to the creation of three "bleached" shades of teeth whiteness. These shades are labeled OM1, OM2, and OM3, and—like the VITA tooth shades—they start with the lightest shade of white and get progressively darker.
While you can achieve bleached shades with porcelain veneers, having your teeth professionally whitened will only get you to the brightest natural tooth shade. This is something to keep in mind if you would like one of the Hollywood white shades for your smile.
Why Aren't Teeth Naturally White?
Teeth are made up of an inner core of dentin, which is yellow, and an outer casing of enamel, which is translucent. The exact hue of our tooth dentin (A, B, C, or D) is thought to be determined by genetics.
As we age, the enamel becomes thinner, exposing more of the dentin underneath. In addition, habitual consumption of foods and drinks that stain teeth, as well as smoking or chewing tobacco, can darken the shade considerably. Older people tend to have yellower and darker teeth compared to younger people.
By the time a client comes to our Beverly Hills dental office, he or she might have a range of tooth shades within one color group, along with one or more teeth that are gray or discolored due to food, drink, smoking, or trauma. Experienced cosmetic dentists always take these variations into account when developing a treatment plan.
How Laser Teeth Whitening Affects Your Natural Shade
Zoom! laser teeth whitening, which we recommend as the most effective way to brighten teeth, can make your current tooth color between two and eight shades whiter. However, while extremely effective, laser treatments aren't usually sufficient for whitening heavily stained or damaged teeth. In that case, you would be looking at porcelain veneers.
Crowns, bridges, and veneers also can't be whitened with laser treatments, which is why it's important to choose the right tooth shade for restorations before they are placed. The good news is that, once they are placed, porcelain veneers don’t stain.
Choosing a Tooth Color
You now know what the whitest shade of teeth is (B1 in natural shades and OM1 in Hollywood-white shades), but is the whitest tooth shade really the best shade for you? A few guidelines can help you choose:
If you want a beautiful, healthy-looking smile, go for B1 or A1.
For subtle results, go two or three shades lighter than the current shade of your teeth, and no whiter than the white of your eye.
For dazzling, red-carpet results when getting porcelain veneers, consider OM1, OM2, or OM3.
In all three cases, the best way to choose a tooth shade is to consult with an experienced cosmetic dentist who has five-star reviews for his or her artistic approach to tooth whitening and restorations. That way, whether you opt for a natural white or Hollywood white, you know you'll end up with spectacular results.