Science + Tech

Dental photography basics

Photography is an important aspect of dentistry that may intimidate some dentists; however, the ability to take quality dental photographs is not only helpful for treatment planning or creating laboratory prescriptions, but it is helpful for the patient to see what you’re seeing.

A patient who can visualize their smile and oral condition from the dentist’s perspective helps them understand the rationale for treatment, thus facilitating treatment acceptance as well as enhanced oral health.

So, where does one begin? The following are photography basics, useful to both dentists and dental students.

Invest in a DSLR camera.

Smartphones can only go so far when it comes to dental photography, so it may be time to invest in a DSLR camera, especially if you are interested in prosthodontics or cosmetic dentistry. Canon and Nikon are the top DSLR brands for reliability and quality. Anything from an entry-level DSLR (such as the Nikon D3400) to a model suited for more serious enthusiasts (such as the Nikon D750) can take great pictures, but if a budget is holding you back, cheaper models are still sufficient. If you are just starting with dental photography, the Nikon D3400 is affordable and easy to use.

Use a macro lens.

You might see the words “macro” or “micro” on your DSLR camera lens. These terms are interchangeable. A macro/micro lens is different from a “non-macro” lens because the macro is designed to shoot small objects, such as bugs on a flower, water droplets on a leaf and the various subtleties found on our dentition. Macro lenses allow you to remain focused on small objects, with distances up to six to 12 inches. This is useful for a dental office with limited space.

Non-macro lenses do not have this ability, and you would need to distance yourself from your subject by a couple of feet to properly focus. Many types of lenses exist, so do your research to make sure the one you purchase is compatible with the model of your DSLR camera. I like the Nikon Micro-Nikkor 40mm F/2.8 lens for its affordability and sharp images.

Choose your lighting source.

Natural lighting is best for seeing proper color and shade subtleties in the teeth of your patients, but this may not be an option in certain dental offices. When determining the light source for your dental photographs, it’s key to prevent excessive harshness. Built-in camera flashes often produce color and shade distortions. An external flash attached to the camera might be a better option, such as a Neewer 48 Macro LED ring flash on the front lens. Ring flashes produce adequate lighting while being compact and lightweight. However, some photographers complain that the images come out looking “flat” if the flash falls straight on the subject.

Another option is the dual-point Yongnuo YN-24EX TTL macro flash, a set-up of two separate flashes attached to the front of your lens via a set of arms. This option is not as affordable, though. Dual-point flash also is heavier and bulkier on the camera, but you do have the option to angle the lights. More control over lighting enhances the 3-D aspect of teeth and eliminates the “flatness” that a ring flash might yield.

Consider image contrast.

When possible, opt for a black background and make use of black cheek retractors (instead of clear retractors that school clinics usually provide). The darkness behind the teeth and oral mucosa adds sharpness and contrast to the subject, and is an easy way to amplify your pictures. Black cheek retractors and backgrounds are affordable and easy to find and use. 

Now more than ever, dentists are honing their photography skills to produce exceptional shots for themselves, their patients and their laboratories. For the beginner, it’s essential to practice. Invest in quality technology, take time to learn by playing with your new gadget and explore the different features it offers. Do not expect your shots to look professional on your first case. Practice on your friends or your colleagues. Watch instructional videos on YouTube. With time, you will be taking professional dental photos that reflect the ever-increasing quality of your dental work.

~Steven Phung, LECOM ’22

Steven Phung

Steven Phung is second-year dental student at LECOM School of Dental Medicine. He has served in the Army Reserve for three years and plans to continue his service as a dentist after graduation. He serves as the LECOM ASDA social media chair and also enjoys making others smile through portrait photography in his spare time.

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