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Correspondence to: Prof Giovanna Orsini
Department of Clinical Sciences and Stomatology, Polytechnic University of Marche, Via Tronto 10, 60126 Ancona, Italy;
Tel: +39 071 220 6224; E-mail: giovorsini@yahoo.com
Composite shade guides
and color matching
Gaetano Paolone, DDS
Private and referral practice, Rome, Italy.
Lecturer, Master of Endodontics and Restorative Dentistry, University of Siena, Italy
Giovanna Orsini, DDS, PhD
Associate Professor, Restorative Dentistry, School of Dentistry,
Polytechnic University of Marche, Ancona, Italy
Jordi Manauta, DDS
Private and referral practice, Chiavari, Italy
Walter Devoto, DDS
Private and referral practice, Sestri Levante, Italy
Lecturer, Master of Endodontics and Restorative Dentistry, University of Siena, Italy
Visiting Professor, University of Marseille, France and International University of Catalonia,
Barcelona, Spain
Angelo Putignano, MD, DDS
Professor, Restorative Dentistry; Head of Department of Endodontics and Operative Dentistry,
School of Dentistry, Polytechnic University of Marche, Ancona, Italy
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Abstract
Finding reliable systems that can help
the clinician match the color of direct
composite restorations is often an is-
sue. After reviewing several composite
shade guides available on the market
and outlining their main characteristics
and limits (unrealistic specimen thick-
ness, not made with the same material
the clinician will use, only a few allow
to overlap enamel tabs on dentin ones),
the authors evaluated the reliability of a
system designed to produce self-made
standardized “tooth-shaped” shade
guide specimens. Small changes in com-
posite enamel thickness may determine
huge differences in esthetic outcomes.
In conclusion, the results showed that all
the specimens demonstrated compara-
ble enamel thickness in all the examined
areas (cervical, middle, incisal).
(Int J Esthet Dent 2014;9:162–180)
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Introduction
Composite is probably the most fre-
quently used material in daily practice.
It is used for direct restorations, indirect
restorations, closing diastemas, cemen-
tation, build-up, etc. Considering that
most of the time it is employed in esthet-
ic regions,
1-9
it is very difficult to find reli-
able systems that can help the clinician
match the color of the restoration. Color
matching in dentistry has always been
an issue;
10-13
in the world of composites
we also have several factors that give
rise to confusion.
First of all, there is no unification in
composite shade nomenclature. Every
company creates names for their com-
posite shades and most of the time
they use the same names of the VITA
shade guide. The market is riddled with
syringes named A1, A2, A3.5, etc, but
most of the time there is no accurate
match between a company color clas-
sification and the Vita shade guide.
14-17

If we select the same shade (eg, A3) but
take them from different composite sys-
tems, we are confronted with a problem:
they are completely different from each
other.
18
Differences are not just only related
to hue and chroma. Composite’s optical
properties
19-21
(Fig 1) are in fact strongly
influenced by several factors: nature and
size of the filler; the material’s thickness;
fluorescence of the dentins; opacity de-
gree of the dentins; degree of translu-
cency of the enamels; opalescence of
the enamels; and refractive index of the
enamel. All these differences may also
arise within the same composite system.
These facts concur in making the
dentist less confident with direct esthet-
ic restorations because he/she tends to
think that esthetic outcomes are not pre-
dictable when using composites. This
often leads to non-conservative indirect
treatments, where shade taking issues
and esthetic outcomes are delegated to
dental technicians.
Moreover, there are big differences
between composite systems. Some
companies propose shades for den-
tin with the corresponding shade for
enamel, using the VITA classification
(eg, Dentin A2 and Enamel A2). Gen-
erally, VITA-based composite shade
guides do not exactly abide by the
VITA reference guide.
22
Other compa-
nies propose universal dentins with dif-
Fig 1 Chroma, hue, fluorescence, opacity/translucency of different brands of dentin composite.
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ferent saturations and enamel masses
with different value. Other companies
have dentin, enamel and body masses.
In addition, in some composite systems
there are several “special” composite
masses that have extreme translucen-
cy like transparent and blue shades,
others have a high opacity (eg, they
are white), while others provide differ-
ent opalescence values.
Obviously, it is almost impossible to
describe all the characteristics con-
tained in a single mass with a single
name, but sometimes it seems that com-
panies prefer to focus on their commer-
cial strategies regarding names, pack-
aging and number of syringes.
A review of the composite
shade guides
Prefabricated shade guides
All the concerns exposed concerning
the naming of composite masses may
be eased using a composite system in
which a fine and understandable shade
guide is provided.
For example, if the ‘A2’ dentin of a
composite system does not match at all
with the Vita shade guide but the com-
pany provides a reliable shade guide,
color selection should not be an issue.
How reliable are shade guides pro-
vided by the companies for their com-
posite systems? Unfortunately, they
often are not.
23-25
If the shade guides
that exist today on the market are ana-
lyzed, an enormous variety is revealed
(Fig 2).
All the shade guides that were ana-
lyzed were dissimilar from the others.
Differences were due to the following
factors:
„ Material of the shade guide.
„ Type of support for the shade guide
specimen.
„ Shape of the specimen.
„ Thickness of the specimen.
The majority of the shade guides by com-
posite manufacturers are made of plas-
tic. Few are made of composite. Some
systems provide a ceramic shade guide.
Other systems are “paper” shade guides.
Analyzing the shank of the specimens,
there was metal, plastic and shankless
(for the stick-shaped and paper speci-
mens).
As for the thickness and the shape of
the specimens, there was also a vast va-
riety. Many had the color “painted” on a
plastic stand (Figs 3 and 4), and this re-
sults in the lack of thickness of the speci-
men; others have the shape of a com-
plete crown of a central incisor, although
they are exclusively dentin shades.
One shade guide had the upper cen-
tral incisor shape and every specimen
(Fig 5) was the result of a hypothetical
stratification of a body, a dentin and an
enamel mass, but no information was
Fig 2 Some of the shade guides we analyzed.
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provided concerning the thickness of
the different layers.
Other guides in plastic have sticks
with different thickness for every shade
(Fig 6). Two shade guides had small and
thick specimens for dentin and thinner
and wider ones for enamel and opales-
cent masses (Figs 7 and 8). Only two
of the analyzed shade guides allowed
for the snap-on of enamel and dentin
masses (Fig 9). One of the shade guides
made of composite consisted of tapered
tabs with decreasing thickness (Fig 10).
Tabs can be overlapped for shade
taking, but the thinnest part of the mass-
es of dentin and enamel is in both cases
1 mm. Since enamel thicknesses wider
than 0.7 mm are rarely used clinically,
the overlapping opportunity of this kind
of shade guides seems redundant and
useless. On the contrary, since chroma-
ticity varies when increasing thickness,
dentin specimens with variable thick-
ness could be useful (Fig 11). Howev-
er, enamel and opalescent specimens
(Fig 12) can only offer an approximate
idea and poor clinical benefits.
Fig 3 Many shade guides have “painted” speci-
mens.
Fig 4 Many shade guides have “painted” speci-
mens.
Fig 5 This shade guide is a result of a theoretical
stratification, but there are no indications on thick-
ness for each layer.
Fig 6 Plastic specimens with different thickness-
es.
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Fig 7 Dentin specimens made in ceramic. Fig 8 Enamel and opalescent specimens of the
same shade guide as Fig 7.
Fig 9 This shade guide is in composite and allows
the snap-on of enamels on dentins.
Fig 10 Tapered composite tabs both for dentin
and enamel.
Fig 11 In this shade guide dentin specimens
have variable thickness.
Fig 12 Enamel and opalescent specimens for the
same composite system as Fig 11 have the same
dentin thickness.
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If made in composite, a shade guide
can give some indications on the shades’
response depending on different speci-
men thickness when transilluminated
(Fig 13). Additionally, if observed with a
black light, we can check the material’s
fluorescence.
Having analyzed several shade
guides and studied them from the point
of view of clinical needs, the authors for-
mulated several considerations about
the composite shade guides currently
available on the market:
„ Only few composite systems have a
shade guide of the same material that
the clinician will use.
„ Few shade guides have the possibility
to overlap enamel and dentin shade
specimens.
„ No shade guides have specimens
with composite enamel cured over a
dentin mass.
„ Default thicknesses of specimens are
often useless, for example, being too
thick for the enamel shades.
„ “Printed” shade guides are useless
since it is well known that composite
behaves differently with different thick-
nesses either of dentin and enamel.
„ The shanks of the specimens some-
times divert the clinician’s attention.
This happens especially for the plastic
support surrounding flat specimens.
„ “Paper” shade guides are often print-
ed on glossy paper. This causes dis-
turbing reflections during shade-tak-
ing procedures.
Fig 13 Tapered specimens’ behavior, when trans-
illuminated.
Fig 14 A micrometer.
Fig 15 First of all we have to check that the spin-
dle is on the zero position when the micrometer is
closed. It is possible to calibrate the micrometer
with the provided spanner. Adjustment is not man-
datory because the “error” can be added to every
measurement we will make.
spindle
anvil
sleeve
thimble
zero (closed) position
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Self-made shade guide
using a micrometer
Because of all these limitations in com-
mercial shade guides, and since a
successful restoration is the result of a
three-dimensional interaction between a
translucent layer placed on an opaque
one, many clinicians have adopted the
practice of producing the shade guides
of the composites that they are going to
use themselves.
26-28
“Self-made” shade
guides reflect the need for more reliable
commercial ones.
One method that can be used to pro-
duce your own custom-made shade
guide is with a micrometer. The microm-
eter (Fig 14) is a cheap device incorpo-
rating a calibrated screw that is widely
used for precise measurements of small
distances in mechanical engineering.
With the help of the micrometer, we
can obtain round specimens with ex-
tremely precise thickness. We can also
overlap two (or more) materials curing
one onto another (eg, enamel and den-
tin). A step-by-step procedure on how
to make a shade specimen of a 3 mm
dentin and 0.5 mm enamel is described
in Figs 15 to 22.
Although this method is very precise
and reliable, it has some limitations:
„ It does not provide tooth-shaped
specimens that reproduce natural
convexities of dental surfaces.
„ The enamel layer (when enamel is
layered on dentin) is uniform so you
have to make several specimens to
check different behaviors for different
enamel thicknesses.
Fig 16 The micrometer is unscrewed by about
5 to 6 mm. Dentin is placed between the anvil and
the spindle.
Fig 17 The thimble is then closed until we can
read 3 mm on the sleeve. Composite is squeezed
and excesses can be easily removed.
Fig 18 Light curing is then performed all around
the composite’s slot. The specimen’s wall will result
to be smoother if a transparent matrix band is rolled
around the fissure before curing.
3.0 mm
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Self-made shade guide
with prefabricated molds
A system to create personalized shade
guides (My Shade Guide for compos-
ite, Smile Line) has recently been devel-
oped.
Positive and negative portions of a
matched-mold make up this system
(Fig 23). The negative portion is the one
that reproduces the vestibular enamel; it
is white and is made of semi-rigid plas-
tic. The positive portion displays the
Fig 19 The micrometer is opened once again and
the enamel composite is placed on one of the sides
of the dentin disc. In this example an opaque high
value mass has been chosen for didactic purposes.
Fig 23 Positive and negative portions of My
Shade Guide.
Fig 20 The thimble is twisted once again in order
to close the micrometer until the value of 3.5 mm is
read.
Fig 21 After enamel curing, the micrometer is
opened in order to remove the specimen.
Fig 22 The specimen is ready, it can be polished
and glued on a stand (eg, on a Microbrush, Micro-
brush International).
3.5 mm
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shape of the dentinal body and is made
of transparent and soft silicon. Making a
specimen is quite simple, as described
in Figs 24 to 27.
The enamel layer has different enamel
thicknesses: the producer indicates an
0.2 mm thickness in the cervical third, an
0.5 mm thickness in the middle and an
0.7 mm thickness in the incisal portion
(Fig 28).
Specimens can be obtained using
enamel and dentin masses from the
same composite systems or mixing
masses from various composite brands.
In this way, it is possible to understand
the response of different materials. More
elaborated inverse layering techniques
can be performed, adding a variety of
colors for special cases.
Fig 24 Enamel composite is placed and spread
on the negative portion.
Fig 25 The positive portion is then coupled apply-
ing a gentle constant pressure in order to make the
enamel excesses flow away through the four vents
created on the negative impression.
Fig 27 The enamel “shell.” Fig 26 Once the two portions are coupled, we
must check that the flask remains closed by itself,
therefore assuring that the material is correctly dis-
tributed. Light curing is then performed through the
transparent portion.
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Figures 29 to 34 show a clinical case
in which the shade guide is made of the
same material that will be used for the
restorations. One more element to take
into consideration is that light scattering
and glare often affect shade-taking pro-
cedures.
A polarized view
7,29
removes glare
and shows the real color of the teeth and
the shade guide (Figs 35 and 36) con-
tributing to reduce the difference (∆E)
between the tooth and the restoration
color.
Aim of the study
As discussed above, a standardized
custom-made shade guide, with a vari-
able enamel thickness width and a tooth
shape, can help the clinician to better
understand the material’s behavior. The
clinician can easily reproduce the tooth’s
shade, knowing the composition of the
matching specimen.
Fig 28 The system is designed to provide dif-
ferent enamel thicknesses: 0.2 mm in the cervical
third, 0.5 mm in the middle third and 0.7 mm in the
incisal portion.
Fig 29 Initial situation. Fig 30 Shade selection with a shade guide made
of the same composite in which the restoration will
be made. Natural gray background may help color
matching.
0 mm
0.2 mm
0.5 mm
0.7 mm
enamel
dentin
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Fig 35 Color matching with polarization. Fig 36 Color matching with flash light.
Fig 31 Checking the silicone index. Fig 32 Layering interproximal walls.
Fig 33 Final result right after dental dam removal. Fig 34 Final result after rehydration.
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For this reason, shade-taking pro-
cedures should rely on a reliable and
reproducible specimen. If the compos-
ite enamel shell is thicker or thinner than
expected, there could be an unpredict-
able esthetic outcome.
Therefore, the objective of this study
was to test the reliability of the system
described above designed to produce
standardized “tooth-shaped” shade
guide specimens.
As outlined by several authors, com-
posite enamel thickness plays a primary
role in the esthetic outcome, so the study
was based on composite enamel shells
produced by the analyzed system.
The null hypotheses of the present
study were that:
„ The thickness of the enamel shell is
uniform;
„ The specimen’s thicknesses are not
influenced by the type of material.
Materials and methods
Since every composite has a different
handling (soft, hard, sticky) and in order
to verify whether the specimens’ thick-
ness could be influenced by the type
of material, different composite resin
brands were analyzed in this study. Six-
teen composites (enamel and incisal
ones) of different brands (Table 1) have
been included for the present study
(Fig 37).
My Shade Guide’s mold is made of
two portions: the enamel mold is white,
while the other mold is made of trans-
parent silicone and is characterized by
the dentinal body shape. The two parts
join together with the enamel composite
in between, and are used to make the
Fig 37 Composites used in the study.
Fig 38 Composites were heated before use.
Fig 39 Every specimen was measured in the cer-
vical, middle and incisal areas.
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enamel shells that represent the speci-
men of this study.
A standardized protocol has been
used to produce every specimen. Every
composite was placed in a composite
heater conditioner (Fig 38) (CHC, Com-
posite Heating Conditioner, Micerium).
After 30 min, a small amount of ma-
terial was taken from the heated syringe
and spread on to the white part of the
mold with a rounded obturator in order
to provide a uniform material thickness.
The two parts of the mold were coupled
and a little pressure was applied for 3 s
Table 1 Cervical measurements
Product name Company Shade Mean Std. Dev. Min Max
Ceram-x Dentsply E1 0.32 0.04 0.28 0.35
Clearfil Majesty
Esthetic
Kuraray
Medical Inc.
E 0.31 0.02 0.29 0.33
ENAMEL plus
HFO
GDF GmbH GE1 0.32 0.04 0.28 0.35
Opallis FGM EA1 0.33 0.01 0.32 0.34
Filtek Supreme
XTE
3M ESPE A2 ENAMEL 0.30 0.03 0.28 0.33
Miris 2
Coltène
Whaledent
NT 0.38 0.02 0.35 0.39*
ENAMEL plus
HRi
GDF GmbH UE1 0.32 0.02 0.31 0.34
IPS Empress
Direct
Ivoclar
Vivadent
Enamel D3 0.32 0.06 0.28 0.38
Herculite Ultra
Kerr
Corporation
XL 0.29 0.03 0.26 0.32
G-aenial GC Corporation AE 0.32 0.02 0.31 0.34
Venus Diamond
Heraeus Kulzer
GmbH
CL 0.30 0.05 0.25 0.35
GRADIA DIRECT GC Corporation DT 0.30 0.04 0.26 0.34
Estelite Σ Quick
Tokuyama
Dental Corp.
BW 0.30 0.01 0.29 0.31
Artiste Pentron Clinical A Enamel 0.31 0.01 0.3 0.32
SYNERGY D6
Coltène
Whaledent
White Opal-
escent
0.33 0.03 0.29 0.35
Renamel Microfill
DeltaMed
GmbH
Incisal Me-
dium
0.29 0.01 0.28 0.3
* t-test P = 0.034
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in the middle of the transparent portion
following the manufacturer’s instruc-
tions, while the mold was placed on a
laboratory dental vibrator (Vibrax 230V,
Renfert) running at a low frequency.
The mold was checked to see if the
two parts had been joined perfectly.
The procedure was repeated until cou-
pling was considered satisfactory, mak-
ing sure that every side of the mold was
“closed.”
A curing light was then applied in the
middle of the transparent portion of the
mold for 80 s in order to cure the com-
posite. After this, the mold was opened
and the shell was cured for another 40 s.
The enamel shells were carefully re-
moved from the white portion of the mold.
In order to measure the specimens’
thickness, a point micrometer was used
(SMPC25, Alpa). Every specimen was
produced by a single operator, who pro-
duced three specimens (enamel shells)
for every composite.
Every specimen was measured
(Fig 39) in the cervical, middle and in-
cisal areas in order to evaluate their
thickness. As a means to measure every
specimen in the same point, a stable and
reliable template was used (Fig 40). This
template was made in composite (M7
CeramX, Dentsply) layered and cured
on the “buccal” portion of a specimen
isolated with Vaseline.
Results
Table 1 shows the mean changes (plus
standard deviations and minimum and
maximum) in cervical measurements,
showing that no significant differences
were observed (all P > 0.05), except
for one composite (Miris 2, P = 0.034).
Table 2 shows no significant differenc-
es across the measurements taken at
the middle area. Table 3 shows that no
significant differences were observed
when the measurements were taken at
the incisal area (all P > 0.05), except for
two composites (Enamel plus HRi, P =
0.019; Renamel Microfill, P = 0.020).
Discussion
Both the null hypothesis were accepted,
while all the specimens demonstrated
comparable enamel shell measure-
ments in all the examined areas.
Fig 40 A stable and reliable template was used to measure every specimen in the same point.
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There are significant clinical advan-
tages when using the proposed cus-
tom-made shade guide. Classic shade
guides are composed by layered tabs,
but the user does not have control on
the enamel shell. Magne et al
30
have
recently demonstrated that color differ-
ence values of a prefabricated anatomic
dual-laminate shade guide (Miris 2) are
acceptable when compared to Vitapan
Classical and custom guides. They pro-
vided a comprehensive understanding
of the color with dentin alone, enamel
alone, or the dentin/enamel combination,
Table 2 Middle measurements
Product name Company Shade Mean Std. Dev. Min Max
Ceram-x Dentsply E1 0.52 0.03 0.5 0.55
Clearfil Majesty
Esthetic
Kuraray Medical
Inc.
E 0.53 0.02 0.51 0.55
ENAMEL plus HFO GDF GmbH GE1 0.52 0.06 0.47 0.58
Opallis FGM EA1 0.52 0.06 0.48 0.59
Filtek Supreme XTE 3M ESPE A2 ENAMEL 0.53 0.08 0.44 0.58
Miris 2 Coltène Whaledent NT 0.49 0.04 0.44 0.52
ENAMEL plus HRi GDF GmbH UE1 0.51 0.02 0.49 0.52
IPS Empress Direct Ivoclar Vivadent Enamel D3 0.48 0.05 0.44 0.54
Herculite Ultra Kerr Corporation XL 0.51 0.03 0.48 0.53
G-aenial GC Corporation AE 0.51 0.05 0.46 0.55
Venus Diamond
Heraeus Kulzer
GmbH
CL 0.55 0.06 0.47 0.59
GRADIA DIRECT GC Corporation DT 0.50 0.04 0.46 0.54
Estelite Σ Quick
Tokuyama Dental
Corp.
BW 0.52 0.02 0.5 0.53
Artiste Pentron Clinical A Enamel 0.54 0.06 0.49 0.6
SYNERGY D6 Coltène Whaledent
White
Opalescent
0.52 0.06 0.46 0.57
Renamel Microfill DeltaMed GmbH Incisal Medium 0.51 0.02 0.49 0.53
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however the described findings evaluat-
ed only one brand of composite resins,
pointing out that additional works could
be performed to extend the matching
shades between other systems. There-
fore, the present study could represent
a valid contribution for the clinicians be-
cause it examined different brands of
composite resins, demonstrating that
matching shades among different sys-
tems could be available with predictable
layer thicknesses. Composite enamel
thickness plays a fundamental role in the
esthetic outcome of a restoration and
Table 3 Incisal measurements
Product name Company Shade Mean Std. Dev. Min Max
Ceram-x Dentsply E1 0.70 0.02 0.68 0.72
Clearfil Majesty
Esthetic
Kuraray Medical
Inc.
E 0.73 0.02 0.72 0.75
ENAMEL plus HFO GDF GmbH GE1 0.69 0.04 0.65 0.73
Opallis FGM EA1 0.74 0.03 0.72 0.77
Filtek Supreme XTE 3M ESPE A2 ENAMEL 0.70 0.05 0.64 0.74
Miris 2 Coltène Whaledent NT 0.71 0.01 0.7 0.71
ENAMEL plus HRi GDF GmbH UE1 0.76 0.02 0.75 0.78*
IPS Empress Direct Ivoclar Vivadent Enamel D3 0.66 0.02 0.65 0.69
Herculite Ultra Kerr Corporation XL 0.71 0.01 0.7 0.72
G-aenial GC Corporation AE 0.71 0.04 0.68 0.75
Venus Diamond
Heraeus Kulzer
GmbH
CL 0.72 0.03 0.69 0.75
GRADIA DIRECT GC Corporation DT 0.70 0.08 0.65 0.78
Estelite Σ Quick
Tokuyama Dental
Corp.
BW 0.72 0.05 0.69 0.78
Artiste Pentron Clinical A Enamel 0.74 0.05 0.69 0.79
SYNERGY D6 Coltène Whaledent
White
Opalescent
0.74 0.05 0.68 0.78
Renamel Microfill DeltaMed GmbH
Incisal
Medium
0.74 0.01 0.73 0.75**
* t-test P = 0.019; ** t-test P = 0.020
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this issue has been discussed by sev-
eral authors.
31-33
Schmeling et al report-
ed that value enamel composite optical
properties, such as translucency, for ex-
ample, was influenced by the value and
thickness of the enamel composite.
31
In-
deed, the authors suggest that special
attention should be paid to the thickness
of the material used to reproduce trans-
lucency of natural tooth enamel.
31
Friebel et al reported that the total
color impression could be shown to be
dependent on the sample thickness
and the transparency/translucency of
the single layers of enamel and dentin
materials.
32
The authors reported also
that the influence of the cover layer on
the total color impression increases
distinctly with the layer thicknesses. In
fact, they experienced differences in
color impressions in composite enam-
el layers thinner (0.1 mm) and thicker
(1.4 mm) than the reference layer thick-
ness (0.4 mm).
32
Vichi et al reported that layer thick-
ness and the proportion of dentinal thick-
nesses and translucent shade greatly
influence the final aspect of a multi-layer
composite restoration.
33
Conclusion
As a result of all of these considerations,
the authors came to the conclusion that,
although a “perfect” shade guide is
very difficult to obtain, an effort to im-
prove current commercial shade guides
should be made.
A barely acceptable shade guide
should have the following requirements:
„ Specimens should be made of the
same materials that the clinician will
use, therefore in composite.
„ They should offer the capability to
overlap enamel and dentin speci-
mens interposing glycerin or, even
better, specimens should be already
cured together.
„ Thickness of the enamel should not
be unrealistic (0.7 mm maximum).
„ It should be possible to test the behav-
ior of different enamel thicknesses.
„ The shanks utilized for the specimens
should not interfere with shade selec-
tion.
„ They should provide for a standard-
ized shape, similar to the incisors, for
every specimen with predetermined
layer thicknesses.
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