June 24, 2022
by Julianne Souza, RDH, BS
“A picture is worth a thousand words.” You may have heard this common phrase many times before. Have you thought about this when it comes to your daily interactions with patients? We are trained, educated and taught how to assess, identify and differentiate between healthy and non-healthy, normal and abnormal in terms of teeth, tissue and surrounding structures in the mouth. Patients, on the other hand, may not be aware of checking out all areas of their mouth and teeth to observe any changes. The power of patients seeing what we see when explaining or diagnosing what is happening in their mouths is highly underestimated in my opinion. Insert intra-oral cameras.
How many times have you, as a hygienist, been assessing gum and periodontal health and started to explain to patients your findings just to have them tell you “my gums never bother me” or “they never bleed when I brush or floss at home”? In instances such as these, the opportunity to use an intra-oral camera to take a photo of areas of inflammation, bleeding, build up and more will show patients what you, as the clinician, are seeing and help them understand.
The same goes for times when you see issues with teeth or restorations. Patients may say “I haven’t noticed” or “nothing is bothering me.” Showing patients areas using a mirror is a good option, but a step further is to take an intra-oral photo, or even video, to show and describe to patients and have it saved for documentation.
We all know the importance of radiographs and periodontal charting in treatment planning, patient education and acceptance. Intra-oral photos and videos can help increase patient acceptance and compliance as well as improve insurance claims.
When a patient is shown what we are explaining to them, they can better understand what we see. Did you find a suspicious spot during your head and neck exam or oral cancer screening? Take a photo to show the patient and document. Is there an area on a tooth that has been noted and the patient wants to keep watching it? Take a photo to document and compare.
Examples of what dental hygienists can show their patients using an intra-oral camera include but are definitely not limited to:
Even though dental hygienists cannot diagnose, we can be the first step in making patients aware of potential issues so that by the time the dentist performs an exam, or the patient is presented with a treatment plan, they have already had a chance to see what is going on and start processing and understanding what we are showing them.
When patients are shown issues or areas to become aware of, most of them become invested in trying to work towards improving or reversing the issue if possible. They may come back at the next visit and ask how they are doing or even ask to see a photo comparison. They become active participants in their oral health care.
A few months ago, I got my own intra-oral camera in the operatory I work out of in one of my offices, and since then I have been taking many more photos and trying to practice what I am preaching. I urge you to start using an intra-oral camera in your daily practice with patients. Not only will it elevate your standard of care, but it can also help create rapport and trust with patients.
About the Author
Julianne Souza, RDH, has been practicing as a dental hygienist for 10 years and has a passion for patient education and oral health awareness. She enjoys sharing experiences with and connecting with other dental professionals as it is a great way to learn from each other and elevate the dental hygiene profession. Contact her at email@example.com or follow along on Instagram @thewanderingtoothfairy to connect.