By Susan Richards
When looking at the history of technological advances in dentistry and diagnosis, a picture really does paint a thousand words. Thanks to Louis J. M. Daguerre, who introduced the photography process in 1839, intraoral photos can be traced back to that same time. Extraoral (external) cameras have been used over the years to capture teeth and oral issues, especially with cosmetic and restorative patients.
However, the first true intraoral camera that captured images inside the mouth was trademarked in 1987 by the Fuji Optical Systems. Soon after, the design was enhanced by Video Dental Concepts and included a dental endoscopic handpiece, light source, and remote head micro camera. This has been the foundation for today’s many models, which can have a price tag in the expansive range of $50 to $5,000. Affordable versions have been found to be just as effective as the pricier ones, making it easy to fully equip a practice with multiple cameras.
Since their conception, intraoral cameras – or IOCs – have become an invaluable tool for dental professionals, replacing extraoral film photography. Zoom capacity, high-definition imagery, portability, and digital accessibility all add to the many applications of the IOC in any dental practice. What follows are some of the main reasons dental professionals consider this technology such an asset.
While the intraoral camera can’t replace radiographs for comprehensive diagnoses, they have been invaluable for use in teledentistry. DOCS Education wrote about the efforts to provide remote dental care to underserved children and communities a year before COVID-19 made remote dentistry even more vital. A patient can discuss their issues with the dentist by video, a hygienist or trained technician then uses the IOC to film the inside of the mouth and the imagery is immediately transmitted to the dentist’s screen for examination.
This enables preliminary diagnosis so the doctor can prescribe the appropriate medication if necessary and set up an appointment for treatment. The use of the IOC can ultimately save time and money, while getting dental care to those in need who may not have easy access.
As anyone in the profession of patient care knows, documentation is imperative. Using photos from the intraoral camera for patient records can benefit the dentist on several different fronts.
• Patient Records: Keeping diagnostic and post-treatment photos in a patient’s file is just good practice. They can be referred back to and used to demonstrate progress in comprehensive treatment plans. Because digital photos take up nominal storage space on a computer or cloud server, it just makes sense to keep them on hand.
• Insurance Claims: Many practices work with multiple insurance plans and know the necessity of submitting evidence of necessary dental work for claims. By providing photos in addition to radiographs, it’s possible to skip a couple steps in the “claim game.”
• Litigation: Nobody likes to think about the possibility of a board complaint or lawsuit as a result of an unhappy patient, but it’s always a possibility. In addition to quality care and thorough communication, an intraoral camera can be your best defense.
The current generation of dental students may take much of today’s technology for granted, but advances in digital photography along with computer-aided design and manufacturing (CAM/CAD) continue to revolutionize the oral sciences.
Dr. Gary Hack at the University of Maryland School of Dentistry uses CAD/CAM intraoral cameras to better demonstrate a variety of dental preparations that would have formerly been done with drawings or models. By being able to greatly magnify the images on a computer screen, he noted an increase in the excitement level from his students. In turn, visual learners find the technology to be a valuable tool in their education.
Using IOC images also offer an illustrative advantage to presentations such as PowerPoint for teaching professionals and dental industry speakers.
Showing a hesitant patient high-definition images of what the dentist is seeing can go a long way to building trust and ultimately, compliance for needed treatment. A 2019 clinical study took a comprehensive look at the impact of intraoral cameras on the factors previously discussed – diagnostics, teledentistry, dentist education – as well as patient compliance. The review concluded that the use of IOCs in diagnosis, treatment planning, oral hygiene instructions, as well as patient goal setting did indeed improve compliance.
Patients are also visual learners and being able to see where there is tartar build-up or a fracture that’s not apparent to them on an x-ray can get them to be a partner in their own oral health.
There are many good reasons why intraoral cameras are considered one of the top five essential items for a modern dental practice. Dentists who don’t use them in their practice yet may want to consider this; respondents in a recent survey by Dental Economics estimated that IOCs resulted in an average increase of $5,000 monthly revenue due to patient education and compliance. It kind of makes you want to smile for the camera.
Author: Susan Richards is a staff writer at DOCS Education. With over 20 years of experience in local journalism and business marketing, Susan’s career includes award-winning feature writing, as well as creating content with context for a wide variety of industries.