Using photography to build your practice

May 1, 2007
A picture is worth a thousand words. This is as true in dentistry as it is in any other aspect of life.

by Cathy and John Jameson

A picture is worth a thousand words. This is as true in dentistry as it is in any other aspect of life. Are you using photographic images to their fullest potential within your practice? Since 83 percent of learning takes place visually, photos and visual inspirations are a powerful way to educate and motivate your patients to accept treatment.

For dental professionals, appropriate use of photography can be an asset to diagnosis, treatment-planning, and case presentations. Our experience with Jameson clients shows that using photography in the following 10 ways - and doing so consistently - can increase production by 20 percent or more!

1New patient evaluation: Gather data on each of your new patients. Take a “tour” of the mouth with your camera, whether you are using a digital or intra/extraoral camera. These photos need to be stored in your practice management software in the patient’s record. Storing the photos is imperative because you will be referring to them throughout the patient’s time with you and using them for educating other patients. If you do not have storage and retrieval capability, consider upgrading your software.

Take a series of photos of each new patient, and take the same series every time. We recommend a minimum of the following images:

  • A full-face view of the patient
  • A full-smile view without retractors
  • A full-smile view with retractors to pull the cheeks back and expose a closed mouth
  • The same full-smile view with retractors, but exposing a slightly open mouth
  • Right and left lateral views with retractors
  • Whole quadrants and trouble areas within each quadrant
  • A full upper-arch view - lingual to the upper anterior views if desired - and a full lower-arch view as well

Many people today choose not to take the quadrant views, moving directly from the lateral to the full-arch views. They may then zoom in to take individual quadrant views from the full arch. Views of individual teeth also can be accessed. This is absolutely acceptable because of the ability to use quality cameras with appropriate software for zooming in without distortion. Note that the megapixels of the camera determine how much you can zoom in without distortion.

2Consultation appointment: Once the comprehensive oral evaluation has been completed, consider reserving time for planning your cases. Sit down with your treatment coordinator to design your treatment plans. As you’re doing this, you’ll be able to pull up the stored images and review them as if the patient is with you. Your treatment-planning will be even more comprehensive as a result.

When patients come in for consultations, you will be able to use their photos to show them:

  • What they have now. What’s going on in their mouths? What do their teeth and smiles look like?
  • What needs to be done to restore their mouth to total health or achieve the desired smile change? Show them similar situations which are examples of before-and-after photos of other patients who had similar problems and good results with the recommended treatment. (Of course, gain patient permission to use photos.)
  • The advantages of proceeding with treatment. Show the patient!
  • The disadvantages of not proceeding with treatment. Show the patient! If you have ever had a patient who has not agreed to your treatment recommendations, and he or she has developed further problems, take a photo of this. Then you can show patients what might happen if they choose not to proceed with treatment.

These photos will become the best teaching tool that you, as an educator, can have. Cosmetic imaging can also have a powerful impact on patients understanding the possibilities. The imaging and photos can come together to make a carefully prepared digital-case presentation, which is good for your case presentation. You can combine your branding message, beautiful imagery, and clinical examples into one impressive presentation. We teach our clients how to produce and present digital case presentations with the leadership of the executive vice president of creative services for Jameson, Misty Absher Clark. The remarkable results include patient satisfaction, uplifting patient/customer service, and much higher case acceptance.

3Hygiene appointments: During each continuous- care appointment, one of the important things the hygienist should do is educate the patient about the next phase of treatment or introduce the possibilities of advanced restorative or cosmetic dentistry.

Here are some situations where photos are desirable in the hygienic area:

  • New areas of concern since the last appointment
  • Any dentistry diagnosed, but not completed. Take a photograph of this area for review, reinforcement, and reiteration of the importance of the treatment.
  • Periodontal concerns
  • Areas that need particular attention during home care. This can serve as a reinforcement of the importance of professional dental cleaning.
  • Photographs of any areas that could benefit from advanced restorative treatment, such as implants.
  • Photographs of the anterior teeth, upper and lower anteriors, and right and left lateral views. Show these photos to patients and ask what they like most, what they like least, and what they would like to change. Open the door for cosmetic possibilities, including tooth-whitening.

When the doctor enters the treatment area to provide the evaluation, these images can be brought up on the monitor for review. The patient can then see the areas of concern. Since repetition is the key to learning, this will enable you to repeat the concern and discuss possible correction, or open the door for further discussion about restorative and cosmetic options.

4Incomplete treatment plans:During the morning huddle, review the treatment plan for each patient. If anyone has treatment that remains incomplete, make a note of this. This will be your alert to make sure that you are taking photos of the next area of recommended treatment. People do not always proceed after seeing something only one time. Repetition is vital. Do not be apprehensive about reviewing, reevaluating, and reeducating patients about your recommendations; this is your responsibility. You wouldn’t diagnose and recommend something if a patient didn’t need it. So if there is dentistry diagnosed but incomplete, bring this photo of the problem area up for review.5Emergencies: All patients who come into the office with an emergency situation that is visible should be photographed. When patients can see the emergency situation, most choose to proceed with the full treatment.6Insurance: If you are filing insurance as a service to your patients, send a before and after photo of the treated area with the patient’s insurance claim. This will give the dental insurance consultants a clear idea of the situation, and he or she will be able to make a better determination of benefits. If an insurance carrier asks for further documentation of a situation, these photos will prove beneficial.7Offset buyer’s remorse:Once in a while, a patient will wonder if he or she made the right decision to proceed with treatment. When the patient comes in for post-treatment evaluation, take after photos. Show the before-and-after images. If the patient is having any doubts regarding his or her decision, these doubts will be put to rest. Studies show that very little time passes before a person truly forgets the way he or she looked prior to the changes. Photographic reminders draw that memory out and result in feelings of gratitude for the expert care.8Educational before-and-after photography:Use before-and-after images to educate patients about available treatment options. These images will also provide “proof” or “evidence” that the doctor can produce the results being recommended.9Marketing materials:Before-and-after cards - Send the patient a card in the mail after the treatment is completed that features his or her before-and-after photos. Include several business cards for easy referral. You can do this on special anniversaries following the treatment Make sure that the card is lovely and the prints of the images are great. The card should have your logo on the front. When opened, an appropriate message might be “Thank you for allowing us to provide this great dental care for you” or “Thank you for letting us be a part of your beautiful new smile.” Have the entire team sign the card and send it to the person’s place of employment. You never know who might see the photos and want to have a smile makeover.

Photo albums - There are many professional photo albums available, but why not develop your own? We believe it is a benefit to show patients the possibilities of having great treatment completed in your practice. Set these albums in the reception area, but carefully place them on the chairs, not tables, so they’re sure to catch the attention of each patient.

Wall of smiles - Display before-and-after photos matted and in nice frames. Have the patients dress about the same with minimal changes in their hair or makeup so that it is easy to see the difference in their smiles. Everyone who walks down your hallway will be amazed at the unbelievable changes in the smiles. We recommend a portrait of the patient with his or her hair and makeup done because this catches a person’s eye more than a mug-shot style of photo. Eight-by-10 photos are great, as well as large unmatted photos without frames on foam core board. Bigger and better catches people’s attention.

Newsletters - It is very important to stay in touch with your patient base at least four times a year in a positive way. According to the American Dental Association, one of the main reasons people do not seek dental care is a lack of dental education. You must educate your patients about existing conditions, the benefits of oral health, and the many opportunities in dentistry today. Show them the potential with before-and-after photos. Pick a case to showcase in your newsletter. You can choose a different case for each newsletter, but our creative services vice-president recommends refining your message so that it’s clearly patient-focused. Ask for the help of a marketing professional to make sure you get the most from each of your marketing efforts.

Magazine or newspaper advertising­ - There are awesome publications available for advertising. Some of our practices have full-page, color advertisements that display the after photo of a patient with the before image inset. A quote or testimonial from the patient is inserted as well. This makes an effective advertisement that will stand out and not be too busy. Some areas forbid testimonials, so instead you can use a factual description of what’s possible.

10Internal communications: Learn how to communicate esthetically to your patients. Communication skill development is a lifelong study.The new-patient evaluation, consultation appointment, hygiene appointments, incomplete treatment plans, emergencies, insurance, offsetting buyer’s remorse, educational befores and afters, marketing, and internal communications are 10 powerful ways to use photos creatively to grow your practice. Build succinct, patient-focused systems and communicate effectively every step of the way, and you will increase your productivity and profitability and decrease the stress in your practice.

Jameson is an international dental-management coaching firm providing instruction and coaching in four vital areas of practice development: communication, business, hygiene, and clinical efficiency and technology. For more information on how to take your practice to the next level, contact the authors at (877) 369-5558 or visit the company’s Web site at

A few quick reminders

1) Access storage capability for the images of the patients who come through your practice. Take your photographic system to the next level! Find a way for your dental practice to take the images via a digital or intraoral camera, and print and store the images. You will then open your practice to endless uses for those images.

2) Make a commitment to implement these new tools. Start with extraoral photography and smile design software, and then move on to intraoral photography. Organize the images by patient, description, and date. Add scanned documents to the patient record to streamline the claims and check-in/check-out processes. Scan your periapical and bitewing films into the computer, and step up to digital radiography. Add patient amenities such as dedicated patient-educational systems. One example is the “Smile Channel,” where patients can learn about the services you offer and the options available from today’s dentistry.

3) Reinforce your team’s skills and abilities in the use of these tools. Communicate how important it is to their careers, that it is a wonderful opportunity to grow, and how it increases practice profits. Have regular team meetings that address any technology problems. This can increase acceptance and reduce frustration.

Technological considerations

  1. You will need an excellent digital camera with at least 3.0 megapixel capability and a ring flash to illuminate images.
  2. We recommend an LCD screen so you can view the entire area in which you’ve captured the image, rather than just part of the intraoral environment.
  3. It’s very important to use proven software from the newer generation of image-capture software.

Consider not only the type of photos you will take with the equipment but the quality. With the new extraoral digital cameras and new software versions, you can do multiple enhancements and magnifications. You can even expect magnification up to four to six levels before distortion or quality degradation takes place.

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