Decades before cosmetic dentistry, one company was thinking about harmonizing facial shapes and anterior teeth.

THIS FANCY-LOOKING Bakelite box from many years ago was stuffed not only with teeth, but also new ideas. It’s the Bioform mold guide from Dentsply (though Dentsply was still known as the Dentist’s Supply Com­pany back then).

This complex system for selecting denture teeth was based on the theory that patients’ teeth should match the shapes of their faces. If your face looked square, the dentist would prescribe a square mold. If it kind of tapered down from a wider forehead to a narrower chin, that called for a tapered mold. Complementing the mold guide were equally fancy coffee-table-type books illustrating all the shapes in the mold guide accompanied by pictures of actual people. Oh, I almost forgot: In addition to all that, the teeth came in a large number of shades.
A complex system indeed!

Bioform teeth were made exclusively of porcelain at first but were subsequently offered in plastic. Later still, Dentsply launched its Bioblend anteriors in both porcelain and plastic, in the same molds and shades. Bioblend teeth were characterized by checks, little lines and some decalcification spots, and they legitimately did resemble natural dentition.

Today, porcelain teeth have gone the way of the dodo bird. So have those complicated theories about matching teeth with facial shapes. Unsurprisingly, though, Dentsply, with its long history of innovative thinking, remains the No. 1 tooth manufacturer in America. And its U.S. product offering is a lot simpler: one line of premium teeth (Portrait) and one of economy teeth (Classic). Artificial teeth are a whole lot simpler now than they were in the days when half the country’s population over age 60 wore at least one denture.

LARRY COHEN, Benco Dental’s chairman and chief customer advocate, has over the past half-century collected hundreds of unique dental artifacts, which reside at Benco’s home office in Pittston, Pennsylvania.