Clinical digital photography

“A photograph is usually looked at — seldom looked into.” — Ansel Adams

We live in a digital world. Snap it; save it; swipe it; screenshot it. We utilize this technology each day, and we constantly evolve our practices to find practical and innovative solutions for our patients. Clinical digital photography is one of the greatest tools we can utilize. Each patient should have a chart that includes a full set of photographs that serves as a guide in the treatment process.

To be a healer or a hitman: John C. Kois wrote an article about this in the Journal of Cosmetic Dentistry, and it resonates. Think about this: You are explaining to a patient that he needs extensive treatment. His face drops, and he becomes confused and upset. You just became the hitman. Now if you can show the patient his dental condition first; if you can present the problem and also the solution, you now become the healer. Photographs are key to achieving this patient communication.

If you like it — snap it! When we say we want photographs in our practice, we want a full set. An in-focus full arch shot is a beneficial view to show the patient. For years, we have shown patients X-rays and single tooth photos. A full arch photograph is so powerful and puts into perspective the entire picture of the patient’s mouth and the clinical concerns, which allows us to educate the patient, and the patient to better understand.

The diagnostic value of clinical photography is immeasurable in our practice. Numerous clinical procedures are divulged in these photos, and they are invaluable in making treatment decisions. In addition, they assist in our visual learning. Visually utilizing clinical digital photography enables us to see clinical changes over time, which in turn, enhances the patients’ perception of their care.

Clinical digital photography is a great attribute to our offices for the following 10 reasons:

  1. The biggest tool in our patient communication comes from showing clinical photographs. We cannot stress this point enough — be a healer!
  2. Dental laboratories utilize the patient photos we take to create our cases and help with clinical parameters.
  3. To make a more effective treatment plan, we can determine so much from a clinical photograph — use this tool!
  4. Insurance often requires clinical photographs for claim determination. Without these photographs, there is a risk those claims would not be fully paid.
  5. It is important to establish a protocol that leads to a smooth workflow. Even though it may be difficult to get the entire team in the habit, the whole team must be invested in using clinical photography. With everyone onboard, it can be a real asset.
  6. If a legal conflict does arise, the use of clinical photography will be necessary to help determine a case.
  7. We all read articles online and in print about our peers’ treatment plans, and those articles with photographs that illustrate the treatment being discussed are essential to our understanding. Use the photos for submitting your own articles to publications.
  8. If you want to refer a patient to a specialist, he/she will want a full chart for that patient. An addition of clinical photographs assists in the co-treatment of your patient.
  9. We take continuing education courses and seminars, and we read articles. But our own self-assessment through clinical photographs will help us improve our quality of care and continue our own education.
  10. It is easy to get hooked on reality television shows. Whether it is for a home repair, hair styling, or fashion trends, we all love a good “before and after.” These clinical photographs are instrumental marketing tools to show the “before and after” of our clinical expertise. Take advantage of your team’s work, and use the photos to reach out to potential patients and show them what you can do.

As photographer Elliott Erwitt said,“The whole point of taking pictures is so that you don’t have to explain things with words.” Let your clinical digital photography speak for and with you.

Dr. Mike Freimuth, DDS, received his dental degree from Creighton University in Omaha, Nebraska, and then he completed his general practice residency at Veterans Administration Medical Center in Omaha. He is committed to continuing education and innovative dental technology. Dr. Freimuth is a Diplomate of the American Board of Oral Implantology, Diplomate of the International Congress of Implantologists, Master at the Misch Implant Institute, Mentor at the Kois Center, Associate fellow at the American Academy of Implant Dentistry, member of the American Academy of Facial Esthetics, member of the American Dental Association, member of the Colorado Dental Association, member of the Metropolitan Denver Dental Society, and Co-Director of Implant Pathway, an AGD/ADA-approved dental implant continuum. He can be reached at

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