We have all heard the saying a picture is worth a thousand words, but in the case of your practice I promise it is worth a lot more! 

intraoral photography

Do you think you know what is going on in your own mouth? Are you sure? I am here to tell you if you think the answer is “Yes of course I do, after all I am a dentist, so how could I not?” there is a good chance you are wrong.

I speak about this from experience. When I did my new patient experience - like we teach here at Spear Education – as a patient, it was eye opening. Yes, I thought I knew what was going on, but let me tell you, I only knew some of it. It was amazing looking at my own teeth in the photographs. They just taught me so much about my own mouth and what I could now see that did not align with my goals. The images helped give me an understanding of what I would need to do to meet my goals. 

So if this was case for me, as a dentist, just imagine how much more potential we have for this with our patients. I cannot tell you how many times I have taken a patient on a tour of their mouth and had them remark how great it was. They told me how much it opened their eyes and helped them make the best choice.

Think you are doing OK without using photography in your practice? Maybe you are, but is OK good enough? You would not be reading this if OK was good enough for you. You know you want to be great, that’s why you come to Spear Education. You want to be the best you can be for you, your team, and your patients. I am here to tell you photography is integral to achieving this next level of care. The critical nature of photography and the impact it can have for your practice is the inspiration for a six-part series, of which this is part one. Dr. Courtney Lavigne and I will dive into the different elements of bringing photography into your practice as well as helping you take it further if it is already in your practice.

Let’s get started!

Introducing dental photography in practice

Think getting into taking photographs of your patients has to be hard? I promise it is not. Sure there is a bit of learning, but you can start with a simple intraoral camera that takes almost no learning. If you currently are not using photography in your office and merely bring in simple intraoral photos, the payoff will be big. Yes there may be a bit of stress associated with picking and learning a system, but I am willing to bet once you get past this you will find your overall and long-term stress reduced. Why? It will be much easier for your patients to understand what is going on in their mouth. This will in turn positively impact them in asking for the treatment they need to reach their goals. I should also mention another really cool benefit beyond showing patients what is going on in their mouth: You can show them the awesome stuff you achieved for them and the good choices they made! 

Picking a camera for your dental practice

So I mentioned intraoral cameras as perhaps the easiest way to get going. Let’s take a closer look at those and two other choices to consider so you can pick the solution that is best for you.

Intraoral cameras

intraoral camera

Since we already mentioned them let’s start with intraoral cameras. These are great in that they can be very inexpensive and are super easy to learn. Another advantage includes being able to capture and display images for your patient very quickly, almost immediately. This makes intraoral cameras conducive to rapid image acquisition and immediate review. Who doesn’t like instant gratification? Due to the simplicity and speed of production, one of favorite places to use intraoral cameras is during a hygiene or emergency exam.

There are downsides to this camera. The images often only cover a very small area and the cameras have limited resolution. Adding to the problem of very close-up, small images, if you don’t keep track of and label all the images, you may not be sure where you took the image. By this I mean if you take an image of a small area of occlusal decay, you might only be able to tell it was a molar or premolar … but not which molar or premolar.

Bottom line for me is while I love my intraoral cameras – I have three – in my opinion they’re best suited for quick “on the fly” images and best used as a supplement to the other options I will mention next. That being said, they are way better than nothing. If it’s this or nothing, get one.

Guess what I started with? Hint: Dollars were tight, I was a scratch start, but I knew I needed a camera.

Point-and-shoot cameras

point-and-shoot camera

The next step up takes us to point-and-shoot cameras. As you would assume, these will typically give us much better resolution than an intraoral camera and can take a better image of a much wider area. Other big upsides include being typically light and requiring little if any adjustment of their settings.

So they sound pretty great, right? Well just like everything in life, they have their downsides, too.  For starters, while they are indeed typically better than an intraoral camera, when it comes to image quality they still fall short of the image quality you get with a DSLR. Another downside ties directly to the upside of limited adjustments. Sure, limited adjustments can be great since you have less “stuff” to set, but it also means you are limited in what you can achieve since you have limited adjustments available. You may not notice these limitations on a regular basis, but I am willing to bet you will at some point. 

Finally, point-and-shoot cameras are not as expandable as a DSLR in that you can’t add different flashes and lenses. Yes, this may not be a big deal at first, but if you take your photography far enough sooner or later it will be a setback just like the limited settings.  

Oh, guess what my second camera was?


nikon d7200 dslr
Photo by A. Savin (Wikimedia Commons - WikiPhotoSpace)

So this takes us to DSLRs. As you guessed, in general these provide the best images and flexibility. OK, if I have you panicking or saying, “Great here we go, I don’t want to mess with a DSLR,” relax. I get it, just saying DSLR can make some start to shake and say to themselves, “Those are heavy and hard to use, and that’s going to be a pain in the you-know-what!”

Many systems are not only heavy, which in and of itself can make them hard to use, particularly for people with smaller hands or limited strength. They can also be very demanding technically. The key word to my last statement is many. I did not say all. If you look at a system like we use in the FGTP workshop at here at Spear Education, then you have a system that is basically as easy to use as a point-and-shoot, pretty light, has a ton of flexibility and expandability, and gives fantastic images. The system that is used at Spear Education is a Nikon D7200 with an 85 mm lens and a Metz wireless flash. The secret to this system being almost as easy as point-and-shoot cameras is the fact that you have two user-defined pre-sets, so all you have to do is frame your image, focus and push the button. In fact, when using these user-defined pre-sets, you basically have the ease of a point-and-shoot with superior images and the ability to use a variety of other settings when needed or desired as your skills and needs progress. The secret to keeping it light is using an 85 mm lens, which is way lighter, and a super-light wireless flash. If you don’t believe me, just ask anyone who has transitioned to a system like this from an older DSLR with a heavier flash and lens. I can tell you my older system was way heavier and harder to use for both me and my assistants. My assistants LOVE the new system.

Final thought on photos in the dental practice

In closing, we have covered why you need to take photographs in your practice and your options when it comes to cameras. If you are currently not using photography in your practice, I hope I inspired you to take action to change that. If you have no cameras at all in your practice and you can’t decide what to start with, my advice is to pick just one camera. If you have the budget, pick a set-up like the DSLR system from PhotoMed, which I mentioned above. A system like this combines the ease of a point-and-shoot with the improved image quality and ability to expand of a DSLR. 

If, on the other hand, a system like that is just too overwhelming for you, then consider a point-and-shoot system. Just know you will have some limitations. If that still seems like too much, go for an intraoral system.

(Click this link for more dentistry articles by Dr. John Carson.)

John R. Carson, D.D.S., P.C., Spear Visiting Faculty and Contributing Author - www.johncarsondds.com


Commenter's Profile Image Chadd C.
April 5th, 2017
Intraoral, point and shoot and DSLRs are talked about, what about a micro 4/3s option? Olympus recently came out with a dual flash for their OM-D line of micro 4/3s cameras for macro photography and it seems like another good option for dental photography. I live in Oregon and a local photo shop wrote up a blog post about using a micro 4/3s camera, see link below. They even came to my office and showed me the setup, which is quite light-weight and has all of the same control options as a large DSLR. Admittedly it did feel a bit small in my hands, but it is another option to consider and I believe that the price is a bit less than a DSLR setup. http://prophotosupply.com/newsdesk/2017/03/dental-photography-weighty-problem/
Commenter's Profile Image John C.
April 6th, 2017
Hi Chadd, that setup looks interesting and I see how it could be a good option. I am curious how the weight and balance would compare to the Nikon D7200 and wireless Metz flash we use FGTP at Spear Education. I know when I switched to that set up (it was the D7100 at the time) I noticed a BIG difference. The other issue could be if you are limited to a dual point flash as they can create an issue with shadows, don't get me wrong I have one (a dual point) too but I shoot most of my images with the Metz wireless which is closer to a ring flash although technically its still a dual point too. One thing for sure though is the set up you brought up here is significantly less! The most important thing for sure is to find a setup that works for you and use it! Thanks again for your comment and info!
Commenter's Profile Image Blair V.
April 10th, 2017
Great article! We bought a Shofu Dental Eye camera for our practice and it has become the staff favorite. Easy switching between portrait mode and intraoral modes with a good flash. Sort of a hybrid camera between full slr and point n shoot. Light weight too.