Photos help patients to see what the dentist sees
Orthodontists harnessed the power of photography years ago, showing patients pictures of their teeth and smile – before, after and even work-in-progress shots – that reinforce the patient’s decision to get braces.
The photos are emotionally powerful and show the dramatic results of a patient’s treatment, the final reward for months or years of incremental progress in the orthodontist’s chair.
General practice dentists, and their patients, can also benefit from photos taken periodically during appointments and especially when more extensive treatments are under discussion.
Dr. Tarum Agarwa has embraced photography in his practice in Raleigh, NC, declaring that without it, dentists are “cheating” themselves and patients.
“Photographs speak a thousand words,” he wrote in a Modern Practice blog last year. “They communicate in a way that words simply can’t communicate.”
Dr. Agarwa said his hygienists follow “a simple rule:” Every patient in for a hygiene visit must have a photo taken and loaded on the patient education monitor. The images are then available to show patients how things are progressing each time they’re in for regular appointments.
He tells the story of a woman who had baseline photographs taken as a new patient. Three years later, photos showed she had gum recession developing. Simply comparing the photos through the years showed the patient the progression and the need for a tissue graft.
“No patient believes or wants to hear they have recession and need a tissue graft,” Dr. Agarwa said. “But – a picture speaks a thousand words. The patient sees the difference and ‘owns’ the problem.”
In other words, photographs allow patients to finally see what the dentist sees, both healthy and problem areas. Photos can be a revelation to the patient, opening the door to better understanding about their mouth as well as informing their questions about treatment recommendations.
There’s another advantage to using photography in the practice. Photographs can be helpful in insurance submissions, documenting clinical diagnoses and enhancing the explanation for treatment plans in a powerful way.
There is considerable debate on cameras to use in the dental office. Dr. Agarwa does not use an intraoral camera, but prefers an extraoral digital camera with mirrors and retractors. Other dentists swear intraoral cameras have increased treatment acceptance in their office and their bottom line.
Either way, photographs can bring new light to the practice and demonstrate to patients problems and solutions in a decisive way. He could have been talking about teeth too, but no less than Abraham Lincoln pointedly observed, “There are no bad pictures; that’s just how your face looks sometimes.”Photo: Filadendron / istockphoto.com