Digital photography 101

We are using photography in ways we never would have anticipated in the past. Cameras are now one of our most important tools. They assist us in the creation of wonderful smiles for our patients.

by Jeffrey B. Dalin, DDS, FACD, FAGD, FICD

We are using photography in ways we never would have anticipated in the past. Cameras are now one of our most important tools. They assist us in the creation of wonderful smiles for our patients.

I love taking pictures ... especially when it makes my patients feel better about their treatment and allows me to practice better dentistry. Digital photography has become an invaluable addition to my day-to-day practice. I like that digital cameras are simple to use, quick to learn, and give superb results. I am particularly happy that relative to most other capital investments we make, cameras are very affordable, as is the cost of the storage media.

Take full-face photographs of every patient who comes into your office. Shoot pre- and post-operative views of your work. Use a simple, chairside report-writing package (I use DEXwrite software from Dexis) to incorporate the images into treatment-summary letters. Print images out in color on a good photo-quality paper such as Kodak glossy paper, and your patients will have a permanent record of their treatment to take home with them. They'll love it — and they will tell their friends!

Once you capture an image, you have multiple options of what to do with it. The fact that you have choices is something that is unique to the world of digital photography. You can:

  • View the image on the camera in its playback mode and either delete it or save it.
  • View the image immediately on a monitor or television.
  • Store the image on your computer's hard drive.
  • Manipulate the image using graphics software that will change color/contrast, crop the picture, or introduce special effects.
  • Use these images in an electronic presentation such as PowerPoint.
  • Print out an image and use the "hard copy" in many different ways.
  • Send a copy of this image via email.

Let's take a look at how a digital camera can be put to good use in your dental practice.

Take full-face photographs of your patients. Include them in your practice-management programs for patient identification. Create marketing initiatives, such as "treatment summary letters," "cavity-free clubs," or "first visit to the dentist" pictures. Use full-face photographs as before and after records when you perform aesthetic work.

Take close-up smile photographs. Use a cosmetic software package to enhance or modify the images. Produce powerful case presentation and treatment-planning letters and slide shows. Seeing images of their teeth can be highly motivating to your patients. Send copies of these images (e.g. a glossy print, a file on a floppy disk, or as an attachment with email) to assist and work more closely with your laboratory technician. Shade selection can be enhanced, as well as the final aesthetic results of your case.

Take close-up photographs of anterior or posterior teeth. Review these images with your patient in diagnosis, case presentation, and treatment-planning. Share images with specialists for their use. Photos make communication easy and concise. Digital images also can be sent on to third-party payers as documentation of recommended treatment.

Taking digital photographs of your patients and their teeth is an essential component of how you should practice dentistry in this new millennium. There is no question in my mind that digital photography allows us to make diagnoses that are better for both our patients and our practices. The fact that we can capture, store, enhance, study, and share digital images is a huge leap forward for our profession.

Digital radiography and digital photography provide the tools and the medium to inform and educate our patients in simple ways that they can easily understand.

Jeffrey B. Dalin, DDS, FACD, FAGD, FICD, practices general dentistry in St. Louis. He also is the editor of St. Louis Dentistry Magazine and spokesman and critical-issue-response-team chairman for the Greater St. Louis Dental Society. His address on the Internet is www.dfdasmiles.com. Contact him by email at jeff@dfdasmiles.com, by phone at (314) 567-5612, or by fax at (314) 567-9047.

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