I remember my first camera but I won’t tell you just how many years ago it was that I got it. I think it was called a Kodak Instamatic and it had the plastic flash cubes that went on top of the thin rectangular camera and pivoted 45 degrees after of its 4 flashes. The pictures were grainy and small but always told a story- whether it was my first airplane ride to visit my best friend’s grandparent’s farm near Madison Wisconsin in 7th grade or trying to surprise my older sisters in awkward positions just to be annoying.

Well I have come a long way from that annoying 9 year old (debatable perhaps) and my cameras have kept pace with the time gone by. I went digital in 2001 and embarked on documenting every patient in my dental practice with a photographic series. The series of pictures were always the same- close ups of the smile from different angles and then views of the teeth with the lips retracted so that all the teeth would be visible including mirror shots that show the tops of the teeth. If you have been a recipient of one of these picture sessions (and if you are a current patient odds are you have been) you know that this whole series takes less than 5 minutes and there’s nothing like pulling your lips and cheeks out with retractors while my assistant cracks jokes and I click away.

The question always arises why these pictures are necessary- and it is not 9 year old residual behavior! The truth is that there are several uses for these pictures that make them just as invaluable as the xrays I take during a Complete Exam. Firstly, it gives you, the patient, a chance to see your teeth and smile from angles you can’t normally view as in a mirror. You’d be surprised how different your smile appears from the side-  a view the whole world gets other than you. Another value of these pictures is that when I show them to you on my computer screen, you see what I see. In other words, I could tell you about the fracture lines around a large old silver filling and the dangers of that tooth breaking, but actually seeing those fracture lines is a lot more eye opening. It allows us to truly work together in creating a treatment plan for your mouth by going tooth by tooth, identifying the weak areas and discussing possible options of treatment.

Lastly, these pictures have been a tremendous value in documenting the state of your dental health at a particular point and time- a snapshot if you will. I can’t tell you how many times I have retrieved pictures from 5 years ago and compared them to that same patient’s teeth today- have the teeth changed color? Worn down? Gums receded? Actually moved? Valuable information indeed. Add to that taking pictures for lab communication (so that the lab can see the shade of your teeth in order to create the same shade for a front tooth veneer) and consulting with specialists (maybe eliminating a need for you to travel to a specialist’s office because he was able to give an answer based on a few pictures) and you begin to see just how beneficial and valuable the art of photography can be.

Well last week we found a new and very fun use – portrait photography. I sponsored a course out of my office, which is to say that I brought a dental photography expert from Chicago to the office and along with 5 of my local colleagues, learned techniques for taking studio portraits. I emptied out a rarely used operatory and outfitted it with several softboxes and other equipment that allow me to take professional quality portraits. Edie, my assistant and Corinne, my hygienist were good sports in letting us use them as models as well as Mary, an awesome patient on whom we have recently finished a cosmetic makeover. What I learned is that this can be a very fun, energizing experience that yields amazingly cool pictures. But what I also learned is that there are a multitude of uses for this kind of photography. It is a great way to more accurately document a patient’s full face and smile using softer light, light that is more akin to the way they are seen in social situations. It can be a better indicator of genuine lip position in a patient’s smile since it is out of the dental chair environment and can also give a lab more smile information while they create new front teeth.

And yes, it is a great way to celebrate a whole new look that can be achieved with Complete Dentistry. So if you hear some laughing and hear beeps from the flash units and see flashes coming from the room next to you while you are getting your teeth cleaned, it just may be another celebration of a very happy patient with a beautiful new smile. Pop your head in- we might catch you in an awkward position…..meanwhile, I’m going to see if I can dig up that old Instamatic, just for kicks.