Most dental patients in the last two decades have seen pictures of the inside of their mouth. Cameras ranging in type are a staple in almost every dental practice regardless of specialty. However, many years ago, that was not the case, there was x-ray, but nothing that a patient could understand.
Over half a century ago, dentists began searching for a photographic device that could allow patients to see what dentists see. Nonetheless, even with the growth of conventional film photography, there was still a massive roadblock to taking dental pictures. There was no apparent way to get light from the camera’s flash inside the dark cavern of the mouth.
Back then, the technology of close-up lenses was capable of photographing a close-up picture of an intra-oral subject. Nevertheless, getting light into the mouth to take the picture was another story. With close-up photography, the lens was often inches from the subject. This light projecting from the camera body could not disperse fast enough to pass enough light deep inside the mouth. Therefore, the concept of dental photography was only for facial photography.
In 1952, the invention of a circular flash attached to the end of the camera’s lens made it possible to pinpoint light into the patient’s mouth. It provided full illumination from external anterior to posterior intra-oral quadrant pictures. This invention revolutionized the concept of dentist-patient communication. Now through photography, a patient could see what a dentist could see and understand the importance of treatment.
Dental photography then became a teaching tool, changing the way for future dentists in school and educating patients. Developments in the field now have photographic documentation used in presentations.
As the popularity of dental photography grew through the 60’s and into the 70’s, a limitation of 35mm film-based photography became clear. The dentist could take photographs of the patient, though they could not review those pictures until the development of the film. Moreover, with elements of human and mechanical error, there was no way also to ensure that the developed photos would represent the case.
The need for immediate photographic results came about with the development of instant film cameras. Instant cameras offered the user the ability to take a photograph and see results within a couple of minutes. The cameras could take a picture and process it to a film inside the camera.
In the 80’s, computers started to take a more significant function in a dental office. The first foray into computerized picture taking was with intraoral video cameras. These cameras were revolutionary in many ways.
The intraoral video cameras’ design is similar to a wand that is narrow enough to use inside the patient’s mouth. With its video feature, the patient could look inside their mouth live, in real time. The dentist could point the small video camera at a particular tooth or segment of the mouth and discuss treatment plans.
With the improvement of computers, the dentist could now import the images to cosmetic imaging programs. With the art of cosmetic dentistry growing, this form of imaging was instrumental in selling cases. Dentists can show patients before and after pictures of other patients, and potential changes that could affect the way they look.