What do champagne glasses, dogs, stars, spiders, and Corvettes have in common? They’re all tooth tattoos that have been created by the lab techs and artists at Suburban Dental Laboratory in Connecticut, a 59-year-old family-owned business that never envisioned itself at the forefront of tooth art, but is loving the challenge and attention it has brought the lab.
Suburban Dental Lab owner Steve Canter, CDT, explained that gold work was the most requested specialty the lab had back in the ‘50s and ‘60s. “Initials, champagne glasses, stars, and half moons are just a few examples of the kinds of images we made for our clients,” he said. “Most were white images on gold crowns.”
That all changed in 1995. “We received a request from the editor of ‘Vette Views’ magazine to create a picture of a 1957 Corvette on her tooth,” Steve said. “We loved the idea and were excited to accept the challenge. It came out exactly how she envisioned it, and she was very pleased.”
That was the start of the current tooth tattoo art craze at Suburban Dental Lab, where they accept every challenge, and enjoy the surprises that clients come up with.
“Most of the clients requesting tattoos are middle aged, and I’ve noticed over the years that the tattoos they pick are quite personal to them,” Steve said. “We have done everything from children’s names, dogs (which are the most popular), sports team logos, flowers, beach scenes, and believe it or not, insects and fish. All someone has to do is provide us with a picture and we take it from there.”
Steve says he feels fortunate that Suburban has two very qualified ceramists who prepare the tattoos, and one of them holds a fine arts degree. The images are hand painted on the crown with stains.
It’s a bit of a complex process. The stains are built in layers until the final picture is achieved. Once a tattoo is complete, the crown is baked to set the tattoo. Some can be done quickly and others can take hours to finish, it depends on how detailed the picture is.
“My ceramist says he enjoys doing tattoos for the ‘wow’ factor,” Steve said. “We hear everything from ‘That’s disgusting’ to ‘That’s so cool. Where do I get one?’ We try to be as creative as possible, whether we’re doing a CAD/CAM implant structure or an e.max crown with a picture on it.”
Most tattoos handled at Suburban are done on bicuspids and molars. “I’m just waiting for someone to want one on their anterior teeth,” Steve said with a laugh. “The tattoos will last many, many years, as long as a client does not put any abrasives on them. In fact, I’ve never heard of one coming off. We have many satisfied customers out there."
A local TV station ran a segment about the tattoos created at Suburban. The staff found out later that it had also aired on affiliate stations across the country. Julia Banbridge from Yahoo! food also did a piece on the tattoos.
“The attention has been very exciting for us, and we’ve gotten many more requests for tattoos since,” Steve said.
For more interesting reading, visit the RDH magazine Facebook page for some comments from dental professionals, and what they think of the tooth tattoo trend.
Meg Kaiser helps coordinate the e-newsletters Dental Assisting Digest, The Dentist-Lab Connection, and DE's Expert Tips and Tricks, and welcomes articles for the Practice Management, Dental Assisting, and Laboratory sections of DentistryIQ.com. Follow her on Twitter @mlkaiser.