Embrace Progress: Picture-Perfect Practice by Dr. Daniel Grob

Categories: Orthodontics;
Dentaltown Magazine

Quality photography can make practicing orthodontics even better

by Orthotown Editorial Director Dr. Daniel Grob

Clinical and professional relationships in orthodontics are rapidly changing, and the venues where patients obtain orthodontic services are also in flux. What used to be a hands-on practice that required intense personal attention to detail, and years of education and clinical judgment is rapidly being disrupted by in-home services, others treading on our turf and a general lack of standardization for what was once considered one of the 10 best professions in the country.

We don’t need to bemoan what got us here, or how to change our (or our patients’) perceptions. While many of us are constantly working to up our game with value-added services and diagnostic procedures, let’s focus on one of the most basic of diagnostic and recording systems out there. One that’s not expensive, can be easy to implement and should be a foundation of every practice. What is that?

Clinical photography
Most of us remember our school days—training for boards and preparing our cases for presentation before faculty and colleagues.

Nowadays, though, many times new clinical settings are just startups that hire an orthodontist to put some numbers on the books for the ultimate sale, and often the most basic diagnostic and record-gathering protocols can be lost in the plan. What better place to start than with photography?

Photography goes beyond just the smile and profile shots we need and use for basic diagnosis. With images properly oriented and positioned, we may assess facial muscle imbalance, skeletal issues, smile arc evaluation and (what we hope we don’t need often) the condition of the dentition before placement of braces. Photography can be also utilized for marketing, training, office manuals and tours.

Before, during and after treatments
The photos can also become a great marketing tool for our own practices. Documentation of the facial condition is probably the most-utilized purpose of clinical photography. Most of us use some version of the standardized ABO system of positioning the patient and if we take the photos properly, much can be gained. The position of the smile, lip incompetence and facial asymmetry are the most frequent findings from the standardized three facial photographs taken from the sagittal and frontal positions. Intraoral photos, meanwhile, document crowding, spacing, dental compensations, and molar and canine positions.

However, how many times have you turned to photos to remember what condition you started with? How about the parents who don’t remember the stain on the teeth that was there before you initiated treatment, or the chipped incisal edge or wear on the cuspids. All of these issues will be guaranteed to come up if you practice long enough.

How about the post-treatment conference? Showing parents the marvelous job you did while in your care is a great way to boost internal office referrals, especially to attract the next sibling into the practice.

I’ll be self-serving here, too, and say that before, after and progress shots are exactly what Orthotown magazine looks for when we’re considering articles for publication. Does your photography document for your peers all of the individual steps of your patient treatment? If we ran only before-and-after photos, it doesn’t tell our readers anything about what happened between them—and those are the moments that we’re most interested in learning about.

Photo finishes
I just returned from an educational meeting where I was told that the key to success with elastics wear was to document wear with photos at every visit.

“Who’s going to take, upload, crop and view the photos for all these patients?” The key is to train staff to do it, of course. Far too many dentists and orthodontists don’t trust their staff to take good clinical photography, but take it from me—it can be done.

For years, I’ve believed that the best clinical assistants and treatment coordinators have the ability to take beautiful patient photos. If you think about it, taking great photos requires attention to many factors at the same time.

  • Begin with placing the proper amount of patient info into the viewfinder.
  • Next, focus on the proper areas of the shots that are required. A good assistant knows what needs to be in the shot once focused: Level occlusal plane, the right approach angle to the lateral view and capturing all the buccal segment at the proper angle is more detail-oriented than one first realizes.

Only after perfecting a technique can a clinical assistant graduate to being a great record-taker. Those who can grasp all that’s required to capture the photos typically have the manual dexterity, curiosity and attention to detail to succeed as a well-trained orthodontic assistant capable of functioning independently and engaging patients with confidence.

Training assistants in techniques with today’s easy-to-use cameras and photo systems is a benefit of the digital revolution. Yes, there are very sophisticated systems that make presentation-quality photos, but there are many point-and-shoot cameras—and even cellphone cameras—that are lighter and easier to use and still do a great job.

Social media and saving graces
No one needs to listen to me, a relative newbie to social media, to realize the importance of photography in patient engagement these days. Facebook, Instagram and other social media platforms feature many professional dentists and orthodontists who make it a point to get their stories online for many to share. Having easy-to-use cameras handy is key to constant content marketing that’s capable of drawing patients, neighbors and others to hear and watch your story online. Your practice should become more regular at this—ours makes it a point to post goals and meaningful information for our patients daily.

If you’ve been in practice long enough, and you take and save great images, you’ll be rewarded for the effort. All it takes is one patient to put you on the spot with a question that begins with “How did that happen?” for you to be saved by adequate preoperative photos. Time to thank your staff for doing a great job and saving the day for showing the parent that the chip, stain or decalcification was present before you applied the braces!

Other ways that a digital camera can help in your practice:

  • Tired of writing detailed office manuals listing this and that and describing what to do when and where? How about photographing all patient steps through the office? Photos of the contents of each drawer and steps in sterilization?
  • A photo journal can be made of patients making it into the office, and the new-patient procedure.

With new digital cameras and photo software, this can be easy. My practice has even offered a CE meeting about clinical photography to our local referrals!

Up the game. Take and share great photos. The benefits can be huge.

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