Kennewick man designs, creates 'tattoos' for teeth

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KENNEWICK — David W. Roberts of Blue Crown Dental Arts in Kennewick takes the concept of body art to a whole other level — the micro level.

Roberts is in the business of making dental crowns — caps that encircle a tooth or dental implant. He takes imprints provided by dentists, and with some high-tech machinery shapes ceramic, metal and porcelain into facsimiles of teeth.

He uses photos to match the crown to just the right shade to match the wearer’s other teeth.

And for customers feeling a little more expressive or adventurous, Roberts will paint a favorite sports logo, a beloved pet or a meaningful symbol on the crown in minuscule detail.

Roberts calls what he does “tooth tattooing,” although there are no needles or pain involved for the person requesting the image — at least not from the artwork.

He started painting on dental crowns about 40 years ago as a young dental technician, and has painted on about 250 crowns through the years.

Becoming a “tooth tattoo” artist was a learning process, such as figuring out how to use red stains without having them burn out and turn pink when the crown is put in the firing oven for finishing.

Roberts said the development of new kinds of stains with more vibrant, durable colors helped him take his artwork to a new level.

The artwork doesn’t just sit on top of the crown — it becomes part of it. Before painting the design onto the crown, he’ll grind the shape onto the crown’s surface then lay the painted design into the depression.

The designs are so small and intricate that Roberts works with brushes that have just one or two hairs.

When the design is done, the tooth gets a clear coating to seal and smooth out the surface, and one last firing to finish it before going back to the dentist to be implanted in someone’s mouth

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