The intra-oral camera – is it a gimmick? Or a useful tool?

The intra-oral camera – is it a gimmick? Or a useful tool?

09 Jan 2011

The intra-oral camera – is it a gimmick? Or a useful tool? Dr Tif Qureshi, BACD President-elect, gives us his views...

What is the most important tool you use in dentistry? Everyone has a different opinion, but I wonder what percentage of UK dentists say it is their intra-oral camera or digital SLR?

For me, these two items are pretty much top of the list. The intra-oral camera for general dentistry, and the SLR for aesthetic, restorative and orthodontic treatments.

What often surprises me is the number of patients who attend my practice as new patients who have never seen their teeth with an intra-oral camera.

So, is it a gimmick? Or a useful tool? I remember a forum argument with a dentist claiming they were “immoral” and were only being used to “sell” unnecessary dentistry to the unsuspecting. I found that view quite incredible, as well as painfully patronising to patients. Personally, I cannot work without them.

Should it not be a normal part of the process of an examination that a patient can actually view in detail what is going on, close up, in their mouths?
At every check-up, I take a new photo of every tooth and we directly compare these with the previous pictures, looking at increasing wear, enamel micro fractures, marginal integrity of old restorations. I see things that I simply could not see with the eye and a mirror. This removes any element of doubt that a patient may have about what needs treating and what doesn’t.

You are, of course, also collecting visual evidence in the event of any dispute with the patient.
Then, with every restoration, a shot is taken before, after opening up or showing caries, after caries removal and after final placement.
This is done out of pure habit now. Because it is so simple, it’s become routine. But, importantly, it does put the emphasis on me to make sure the preparation and end result is good, meaning there is no hiding!

And there is the point.

Being self-critical and being open-minded about the quality of ones own work is, I believe, a vital part of any dentist’s professional development.
The next step is to purchase a digital SLR camera for proper dental photography. If you don’t have one of these, you are putting yourself at a huge disadvantage, especially if you ever intend to carry out any sort of aesthetic procedure, from simple bleaching to advanced cosmetic/restorative dentistry.

Not only are you letting a large portfolio of your work slip through your fingers, but you are missing the chance to seriously audit your own work.

Lots of courses are available that can teach you how to get the most out of your camera. But, with practice and actually using the camera day-to-day, you will discover this can be one of the most important and valuable aspects of modern dentistry, and a vital first step in your career pathway or improving the quality of your work.

“Something is happening. We are becoming a visually mediated society. For many, understanding of the world is being accomplished, not through words, but by reading images.”
— Paul Martin Lester, ‘Syntactic Theory of Visual Communication’.

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