Man with two closeups of his mouth open and closed

As a clinician, I look for a consistent and predictable process to help me properly diagnose and treatment plan patients. As a technician, I look for a consistent and predictable process that allows me to achieve the desired outcome fabricating restorations. Both objectives can be accomplished using photographs. They are an essential means of communication within the dental team and for conveying information to patients.

chipped front tooth
fixed front tooth
side by side comparison of a man smiling

There are multiple Spear Digest articles that provide information on the types of photos you should be incorporating into your practice. In this article, I address why photography should be an integral part of your patient's clinical record and treatment plan and why it may be the most important communication tool for your practice.

Areas in which photography is essential in your practice include:

  • Diagnosis and treatment planning
  • Documentation
  • Communication with your interdisciplinary team, including your laboratory
  • Patient education
  • Legal and insurance documentation
  • Professional marketing

Diagnosis and treatment planning

Preoperative photos capture information that’s important for diagnosing and treatment planning. They provide a baseline record of facial tooth position, occlusion and periodontal status. My “Recommended Photography Series” article provides a list of clinical photos and how to compose them, providing an excellent foundation for all the above areas.

Patient education

I am sure you have heard the saying, “A picture is worth a thousand words.” While visual aids like models and brochures can help explain a general procedure to a patient, detailed patient-specific photos can improve patients’ understanding of the condition of their dentition and help educate them on their unique dental diagnosis and proposed treatment plan.

This is especially true when explaining to patients why they require your recommended treatment. Clinical photos can be used as a visual tool in the guided discovery process, encouraging patient participation and involvement in the planning of their care. Photos of similar cases you have treated can be used to show patients the outcomes of those with comparable problems, conditions and needs or desires – helping them understand the process and outcome, which promotes case acceptance.

Communication with your interdisciplinary team

Pretreatment or in-treatment progress photographs, in addition to mounted/diagnostic casts, are the easiest ways to communicate with the patient and share your wishes with the dentists you may refer to for specialty treatment. The photos can be sent through HIPAA-compliant encrypted email or used in face-to-face discussions. Spear templates can be used to create clarity in all team communications.

The best way to communicate with the technician working on the case – whether it is a diagnostic wax-up, surgical guide or definitive restoration – is through digital photography. Photographs provide important information to the technician, improving the esthetic and functional outcomes and patient satisfaction. Important photos include the requested shade tab next to the natural teeth and the prepared tooth/teeth with a shade tab.

Legal and insurance documentation

Clinical photography provides a visual record of patients’ current condition, problems identified during treatment (fracture lines, etc.) and the care provided. They provide detail that is difficult to capture in a written narrative. Photos are used to supplement written documentation by showing the extent of treatment required and/or provided.

When submitting insurance claims, photographs can be used to support the narrative and other documentation provided. Clinical photographs in their raw and unedited state can be used to document patients’ dental status before and after treatment, helping to prove appropriate treatment was rendered in the event of a malpractice suit.

Professional marketing

Before and after photos are powerful tools to showcase your skills and patient outcomes. Patients want to see what you can do. Having clinical photos on your website, digital office screens and in books patients can browse in your waiting room are the best ways to demonstrate the type of care you provide.

If you do not already use photography in your practice, now is the time to do so. It is an important tool for elevating your practice to the next level and essential for improving communication and facilitating improved patient outcomes.

Robert Winter, D.D.S., is a member of Spear Resident Faculty.


Commenter's Profile Image Ricardo M.
April 25th, 2019
Awesome article Bob!!!