Yes I know that's not the original quote. The problem with writing articles for dentists is you know there are several thousand OCD perfectionist pedants out there fact-checking (mentally) your every word. Depending on who you believe, the original quote is "a picture is worth a thousand words", or "a picture is worth ten thousand words" (adjusted for inflation I assume). In the world of dentistry, however, I stand by my contention that a photo saves in the approximate vicinity of a thousand words, sort of roughly, in the region of, or thereabouts.
It's easy to take for granted what we do. I spend my life looking at teeth through high magnification with a bright light strapped to my head. Most teeth I see day to day are very large and brightly lit. That is not the world our patients live in. Yeah, sure, the Instagram crowd stare at their teeth up close and personal before taking 2 hours to shoot a "spontaneous" photo, but the residue of your patient base barely have the vaguest idea what their teeth look like. And that really helps us.
Why? Because when we do show them what they're teeth look like, it makes an impression. It's not old news; it's "news just in". But how and what to do?
I've been taking a full series of photos of all new patients since the dawn of the digital age. I'm sure many of you do the same, but if you don't, it's worth the discipline. I also take a lot of "after" photos of the work I do. Again, if you're not doing that, it's worth the discipline.
So, this is what I do. New patient comes in. After the "meet and greet", I take digital bitewings. While those are being processed I do a full series of intraoral shots: lip at rest; smile; retracted in occlusion; retracted just out of occlusion; left and right retracted; full arch upper; full arch lower; and all four quadrants. I then get them to stand up, take a full face photo in the hallway, take an OPG and then I sit them back down in my chair and do my exam. At the end of the exam, we go into my office and review the results together.
OK, none of that is rocket science. Yes, I'm well-practised in PrimeSpeak and The Sernik System, and yes, I can pull off an eavesdrop exam as well as the next Tom, Dick or Harriot. I can't begin to stress how important effective communication is, but as the title of the article says: A photo saves a thousand words.
No amount of talking - and I don't care how good you are at it - can compete with a photo. My preference is good quality SLR photos taken with a ring flash and a macro lens. You can magnify those REAL big. Smartphone photos can look pretty good if taken with a decent mirror. I'm not a fan of intraoral cameras, but they're better than nothing.
Patients are more motivated to fix something they can see needs fixing. Staring together (the patient and I) at a quadrant of their large amalgam restorations (like the photo above left) and discussing the treatment options is very motivating. What's MORE motivating, however, is being able to show them a before and after photo (like the one top right) of a situation similar to theirs. It's not a very big leap to go from looking at something not particularly appealing (a quadrant of amalgam) to something that is appealing (a quadrant of ceramic) and making a decision to proceed with treatment.
There is, however, a problem with this process. A quadrant of ceramic restorations costs about the same amount as a ten-day holiday for two people somewhere very nice. Family buying decisions are rarely made in isolation. While the patient may see the need for the amalgams to be replaced, the spouse may see a greater need for a ten-day holiday.
And that's where Smile Right comes into its own. Smile Right is a patient communication and finance platform developed by a bunch of smart IT guys and demanding dentists (including me) that aims to simplify the way we practice dentistry. It does lots of things now and as the platform continues to mature, will be doing lots more things in the future. Patient finance options, treatment plan delivery, informed consent documentation and management, secure specialist referral transmission and tracking, health history monitoring and updating and practice marketing are all things Smile Right is doing now or in the current development cycle. One thing it does very well RIGHT NOW though, is deliver photos with the treatment proposal and payment options.
It is VERY EASY (using Smile Right) for someone convinced of the need for a procedure to show their significant other the current situation and how it might look when fixed. Yes, you can just email them the photos, but my experience is the combination of payment options and before and after photos delivered through a very professional portal (smartphone or computer) helps the patient "sell" the treatment to their significant other. Which conveniently brings me back to the beginning: A picture saves a thousand words.
If you have an interest in communicating better with your patients, I'd respectfully suggest you sharpen up you photographic skills and take photos of all patients. If you have an interest in sharpening up your business and increase your case acceptance in general, then I'd respectfully suggest you have a good hard look at what Smile Right has to offer.
About the author
Dr Brett Taylor practices in suburban Sydney. He has a long interest in patient communication. He along with a number of leading dental industry figures provide ongoing advice to Smile Right.
For info, see www.smileright.com.au.