Smile for the camera

July 1, 2000
Taking advantage of the patient`s `initial phase of excitement` is a time-sensitive issue. Instant prints ensure patients say more than just `cheese.`

Smile for the camera

Taking advantage of the patient`s `initial phase of excitement` is a time-sensitive issue. Instant prints ensure patients say more than just `cheese.`

George Freedman, DDS

The tremendous popularity of cosmetic techniques - with both patients and dentists - has changed the entire scope of the dental profession. Various electronic- and photographic-imaging techniques are being used more often for marketing and treatment documentation. Today`s patients demand visual, esthetic, and functional acceptability in restorations. Since visual criteria can be rather subjective, an objective means for collecting and evaluating treatment data is required. Fortunately, dentistry has a number of options for visual-documentation systems.

The dentist`s objectives in photography and imaging include treatment documentation, peer presentation, patient education, and direct marketing. A large range of equipment is available - 35mm cameras, instant cameras (Figure 1), intraoral video cameras, video cameras, digital cameras, and a variety of hybrid systems. These options are further differentiated by the level of sophistication that is chosen, the corresponding difficulty of operation, and the learning curve/time required. Each dentist`s choice of photographic or imaging system will depend greatly on the intended use of the images.

Slides and projected digital images currently are recognized as the standard formats for peer presentation. Intraoral-video cameras are the most direct in presenting rapid and clear chairside documentation. Patient awareness and education are essential elements for developing demand and gaining acceptance of treatment.

Today`s fast-paced practice environment requires dentists to be extremely effective in both their internal and external marketing. The instant print camera provides one of the most effective tools for improving referrals and increasing patient satisfaction. The instant print is of better quality - and more color correct - than the printed images currently available through intraoral video cameras.

The best mode of dental advertising is direct, unsolicited testimony from a satisfied patient. The difficulty with this approach lies in the motivation of a typical patient to become an effective broadcaster of the dentist`s skills and techniques. To accomplish this task, three steps are required. The first consists of the cosmetic treatment provided by the dentist. The second involves providing a satisfied patient with the tools to become an ecstatic ambassador. The third specifies that these marketing tools are made available during the critical initial phase of excitement.

The initial phase of excitement

The patient`s awareness of, and excitement about, the positive benefits of a cosmetic procedure is highest immediately following the procedure. The patient has a new appearance, so this is the time when he or she is most likely to talk about the treatment to friends, relatives, co-workers, etc. Since people are more likely to interact with like-minded individuals, all of this discussion is focused on a select and respective target market. The narrow window of opportunity for ideal third-party marketing is termed "the initial phase of excitement."

Unfortunately, as new life events and dental topics fade from conversation, this initial phase quickly dissipates. Thus, to maximize referral success, it is essential that the dentist harnesses the power of this initial phase of excitement. It is the dentist`s responsibility to provide the satisfied patient with as much verbal, written, and visual "information ammunition" as possible. The more communicative the person can become and the better his or her capacity for clearly demonstrating the benefits of cosmetic treatment, the more likely his or her friends are to seek dental treatment.

Many patients are not adept at accurately describing the transformation created by the cosmetic dentist. As laypeople, they lack the terminology and the dental background to become effective marketers. To maximize the benefits of their testimonials, the practitioner must provide these willing ambassadors with specific pictures that visually document cosmetic changes.

Patients can become effective ambassadors for your practice in several ways. A written pamphlet may be accurate and informative, but the chances of it being read in today`s visually oriented world are slim. Arming the satisfied patient with before-and-after photographs provides him or her with a visually centered, personal, and dramatic documentation of the dentist`s skills. Even a single glance at the comparative pictures can encourage potential patients to request appointments. Positive personal testimony from the patient, combined with a visual confirmation, converts word-of-mouth advertising into "seeing-is-believing" proof.


Several photomarketing options are available:

Slides - While technically excellent, slides require projectors and screens. Thus, they are not suited for quick and easy chairside demonstration and utilization.

35mm prints - Regular photographic prints can readily demonstrate a before-and-after change in appearance. However, the various steps involved in the photofinishing process - from the several days it may take to develop the film to mailing the photos along with a handwritten note - will likely cause delays beyond the point of usefulness. This long delay precludes any marketing benefit. It is very likely that, by the time the prints are available to be given to the patient, the initial phase of excitement will have expired. Thus, the prints that were intended to be shown to friends and relatives most likely will be placed in a drawer and forgotten.

Instant prints - Polaroid prints can be provided to patients immediately upon completion of a cosmetic procedure. Since the prints are self-developed within moments of being taken, the dentist or auxiliary simply hands the prints to the patient. An identification sticker for the dental office should be affixed to each print. The effect is immediate, visual, and personal. In most cases, before-and-after pictures will demonstrate a dramatic alteration of the patient`s smile, providing an excellent conversation piece that can be shown during the initial phase of excitement.

Instant prints also may be used in dentist-to-dentist referral situations to visually highlight a particular problem or condition. The dentist-to-laboratory technician communication can be greatly enhanced with the addition of a visual component (such as shade-guide tabs photographed alongside the teeth) to the laboratory prescription.

The Macro 5 SLR

The newest entry into the instant-print camera category is the Polaroid Macro 5 SLR. Technological advances in the Macro 5 provide ease-of-use and consistent results at a lower price than previous instant cameras. The Macro 5 offers - at 9.0cm x 7.5cm - self-developing, full-color images which reproduce faces, smiles, and close-ups with excellent detail.

The Macro 5 has a built-in, multi-magnification feature that allows you to take five different photos. A simple rotation of the dial changes the magnification ratios from head-and-shoulders, to full face (Figure 2), to chin and nose with smile, to full smile only, to four teeth only (Figure 3). There is no need to purchase an extra lens kit, since all of the possible magnifications are included within the body of the camera. The framing icons on the dial indicate the approximate field size for each selection.

The SLR feature permits the dentist to preview the subject through the viewfinder. Thus, the finished print incorporates the exact image that the dentist observes on the built-in grid screen. This feature eliminates the guesswork framing of subjects, a technique-sensitive issue with previous instant cameras.

Focusing is very easily accomplished. In addition to a distance guide for each magnification, two small focusing lights project on the subject as soon as the shutter button is slightly depressed. The dentist moves in and out from the patient until these white dots intersect. Once they have merged into a single point, the picture is perfectly focused.

An optional set of mirrors can be attached in front of the lens to provide intraoral instant prints. These mirrors may be used for palatal, buccal, and occlusal views, and they do not alter the focusing or the magnification techniques that are used with the Macro 5 SLR.

The relative illumination of each magnification may be adjusted through the lighten/darken controls to maximize the color balance of the resulting print. The on-board camera chips then memorize the optimal setting at each magnification and return to it when that image size is selected again. There are two flash units, one located on either side of the lens, which may be turned off to create shadows that enhance the artistic or dramatic qualities of the instant print.

The Macro 5 is smaller than its predecessors. It uses 4 AA batteries and Type 990 film, which is high-speed (ISO 640), high-definition, and well-suited to dental needs. Each film packet contains 10 prints and the battery unit to power its operations. The Macro 5 automatically turns itself off after 30 seconds of nonuse, preventing the inadvertent loss of battery power. Integrated date and time controls permit the dentist to add this information directly onto the prints for documentation purposes. The Macro 5`s learning curve is minimal - five to 10 pictures will make the user feel comfortable with the camera.

This procedure can be readily delegated. The auxiliary is most often responsible for taking the instant prints. The process is simple, predictable, accurate, and effective. It allows the dentist to readily harness the initial phase of excitement through instant print documentation of a successful esthetic procedure. Tapping into this potential source of referrals will increase the dentist`s indirect marketing reach and educate potential patients about the benefits of cosmetic dentistry.


(1) Press the power button to turn on the camera. The red indicators will flash while the batteries are charging. Once the green indicators have appeared (this takes several seconds), the camera is ready to take pictures.

(2) Set the magnification dial to the selected field size (Figure 4). The lighten/darken controls will automatically return to the custom settings for that magnification.

(3) View the subject through the viewfinder to compose the picture. Slightly press the shutter button to activate focusing lights.

(4) Align the focusing lights on the subject through the viewfinder (Figures 5 and 6).

(5) Completely press the shutter button to take the picture. Aperture, flash, and exposure are determined automatically by the camera.

(6) The instant print is automatically ejected from the camera. Put it aside for several minutes while the picture develops.

(7) Identify the providing dentist with a sticker at the bottom of each print.

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