The Journey of Dental Photography

Dental Photography

Photography in itself is a great skill and is one of the most common hobbies amongst people. Photography is an universal language. According to wikipedia, It is an art of creating durable images.

The world’s first photograph captured by a camera was taken in 1826 by Joseph Nicephore Niepce and was titled “View from the Window at Le Gras”

The scientists soon realized the merits of photography given its perceived ability to present an objective image of what was seen. This solved a problem of representing the descriptions given by physicians and surgeon, the challenge there was that the artists could be easily influenced by the descriptions given and so would be the illustrations that they create. 

The first application of photography in medicine was recorded in the year 1840 when Alfred François Donné from Charité Hospital in Paris captured photographs of sections of bones and teeth.

Hugh Welch Diamond, a physician and a founding member of the Royal Photographic Society, used photography as a tool in the field of mental illness. He was working in the women’s section of the Surrey County Asylum in 1852, where he attempted to create a catalog of visual signs of insanity by photographing the patients and organizing the photographs by symptom. Guillaume-Benjamin Duchenne de Boulogne  photographed facial expressions and at one point listed 53 emotions that could be identified based on the muscular actions. It was published in 1862 in Mécanisme de la physionomie humaine in the most remarkable of all photographically illustrated books in medical science prior to the 1900.

Photography in dentistry is relatively a recent phenoma, over half a century ago, dentists were in need of a device that could allow the patients to see what dentists see. Even with the growth of conventional film photography, there was still a bottleneck to taking dental pictures, given the location. Lack of sufficient light inside the oral cavity was a massive roadblock. Although, the close-up lenses were capable of photographing a close-up picture intra-orally. Without enough lights, the lens was often inches from the subject. Even then, the light projecting from the camera body could not pass enough light deep inside the mouth. Therefore, the concept of dental photography was limited to only facial photography.

The problems got resolved in 1952 with the invention of a circular flash attached to the end of the camera’s lens . It was now made possible to pinpoint light into the patient’s mouth. The illumination was sufficient for  anterior to posterior intra-oral quadrant pictures. With this,the dentist-patient communication saw a different light. It revolutionized the concept patient counseling in dentistry. Now through the photographs, a patient could see what a dentist could see and understand the nuances of everything ‘better’.

Growing further, dental photography became a teaching tool, paving the way for future dentists in school and patient education. Any developments in the field now have photographic documentation to be used in presentations that communicate better and share ideas and information objectively.

Popularity of dental photography grew through the 60’s and into the 70’s, and with that, the limitation of 35mm film-based photography became clear. Now that the dentist could take photographs of the patient, they would still have to wait for the development of the film before they could review them. To add to it, with the elements of human and mechanical errors, one could not predict If the photograph taken would represent the actual case.

The need for an immediate photo gave way to development of instant film cameras. These cameras allowed a user to click a picture and acquire a developed picture within a couple of minutes. These cameras could process the film inside it.

When the computers started to take on the world in the 80’s, dental photography moved on to them. The first venture into computerized photography was with the intraoral video cameras. These cameras were truly revolutionary in many ways.

  1. The intraoral video camera’s design was (is) like a wand that is narrow enough to be used inside the patient’s mouth.
  2. With the video feature, the patients could take a tour inside their mouth LIVE, in real time.
  3. The dentist was now able to point the small video camera at any particular tooth or segment of the mouth and talk about treatment plans.

The next era came with the improvement of computers. The dentists could now import the images to a cosmetic imaging program. With the rising demand of cosmetic dentistry, this form of imaging was instrumental in selling cases to patients. Dentists could very easily show patients’ before and after pictures with potential changes that could affect the way their smile looks.

The primary purpose of recording a dental image or a video is for documentation and counseling. It helps in creating and customizing a detailed treatment plan in various procedures of all specialisties of dentistry. In surgery, Orthodontics, Aesthetics and Prosthodontics, patient counseling has become much more easy and it helps make the patient a partner in their dental treatment journey. For taking second opinions or for case referrals, these images and videos play a pivotal role. 

Secondary uses of these tools are for legal documentation, education and marketing. With digital marketing on the rise, the dental practioners are using images and videos of cases to attract suitable patients. It also works as a patient education tool.

Dental photography today has become an essential part of a dental clinics. Some leading institutions have even started training dental students on professional photography and its nuances, which is a welcome step. Dental photography so far has been revolutionary in shaping dental practices and giving it a fresh direction. We are hopeful to see what more it holds for us in future.