How to take the best clinical photography

clinical photography Orthodontic therapist Adriana Bosianek explains all the factors that need to be considered when taking clinical photographs.

Clinical photography is an integral part of a patient’s baseline clinical records and the importance of it should not be underestimated. The digital era enables us to produce and store these records with ease. They are a useful tool in effective communication.

Not only between patient and orthodontic therapist. But also between therapist and supervisor for prescription, treatment planning and monitoring purposes. 

There are five main principles in clinical photography:

Consent

Prior to taking any photographs, you are obliged to obtain relevant and valid written consent from the patient. This is regardless of what the purpose of the photographs is. It is important to note that:

  • Only a competent and trained person can obtain consent from the patient
  • Patient or guardian must have enough information in order to make informed decision
  • Purpose and use of these images must be explained
  • They have the right to withdrawn their consent at any time
  • Photographs should be stored in a safe and regulated environment with controlled access.

Clinical

Clinical photographs play an essential part of the treatment planning phase. It is vital that they are as accurate as possible. A full set of clinical photographs (extraoral and intraoral) that represents the original clinical condition is an invaluable addition to a clinical evaluation. They enable the orthodontist to study the patient’s existing skeletal base and malocclusion and plan treatment accordingly.

They are also crucial in the medico-legal aspect. Should an allegation arise of substandard or detrimental treatment, these photographs will act as evidence against potentially false claims. Furthermore, they are a great communicative tool to use with patients.

They enable the professional to visually demonstrate changes in tooth movement; this can be very motivational and encouraging for the patients. 

Educational

Clinical photography is one the best tools in orthodontic education and it enhances teaching considerably. It facilitates professionals in the demonstration of good practice, as well as showing them what unfavourable treatment results can look like. It teaches pathology in an observable, rather than verbal, manner. This can be of great aid in lectures and conferences, as well as books and academic journals for dental professionals.

In terms of patient education, it gives us an opportunity to reveal the effects of poor oral hygiene with the use of photographs. Patients with severely overcrowded dentition often present with areas of chronic inflammation. This can lead to periodontitis.

You more frequently find supragingival plaque in crowded than non-crowded areas. Photographs are useful where there is a decline in oral hygiene during orthodontic therapy. They can act as warnings to patients and subsequently assist in motivating them to successfully complete their treatment. 

Research

You can largely attribute the vast increase in popularity of orthodontics and significant changes in orthodontic practice to research. In addition to contributing to the major developments in lingual orthodontics and clear aligner therapy, up-to-date orthodontic research allows us to consistently deliver more efficient and effective treatments.

Marketing

A good photograph is worth more than a thousand words. Tim Fargo made a wise statement in his book, Alphabet Success, ‘don’t tell me about your effort, show me your results’.  We live in a visually-dominated culture and so the utilising of photographs to communicate with patients during their first visits gives them a chance to actually see how orthodontic therapy can transform smiles.

Our specialist orthodontist Dr Usman Qureshi has developed a ‘smile book’. This is a collection of before-and-after photographs with different types of malocclusion. He presents these to patients to give them a tangible idea of what they can expect. This has proven to be one of the key elements of the initial consultation process.

Patients do, of course, need to know what is required in order for the optimal result to be achieved, but consider sparing them of this information at the first visit. Your initial meeting with the client should be focused on building a trusting and comfortable relationship with them, and there is no better way to do so in the world of orthodontics than by showing off your previous work and explaining what types of braces are available in your clinic. 

The aforementioned visually-governed society in which we live gives rise to certain expectations – this is where the power of digital marketing plays a role. Instagram and Snapchat are examples of popular social media platforms which are based solely on photography.

Companies and independent professionals can use the power of these platforms to their advantage, as they are an easy and effective way to communicate with potential clients. All you need to do is to routinely deliver good results and, if you are using social media, remember: consistency is key!

This article first appeared in Orthodontic Practice magazine.

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