An Esthetic Case Begins With a Photo and It Ends With a Photo

By Zach Sisler, DDS, AAACD

Figure 1

With the ever-increasing presence of social media in our society today, patients are becoming more educated, especially when it comes to cosmetic dental procedures. With that being said, it puts a large emphasis of importance on our dental photography in documenting an esthetic case. The ability to shoot clean and consistent photography helps increase case acceptance, promote lab communication, and allows for that final social media post to generate more new patients coming into the practice. The following are a few tips to ensure your dental photography is showcasing your work in the best possible light.

Patient Communication: Today’s patients, like most consumers, want to see what a dentist can offer them before they initiate treatment. With the technology that is available, a dentist can take a photo and complete a smile rendering within a few minutes; however, the starting point is still taking the initial photo. Therefore, the old saying still rings true, “a picture is worth a thousand words.” A simple photo could be the difference between a patient saying, “yes” or “no.”

The Set-Up: While smartphones are easy and convenient to use, the image quality and lens distortion makes it a challenge to maintain consistency. When trying to achieve a predictable photo, a dentist needs to be able to control the light source and the focal length from the edge of the lens to the patient. A digital-single-lens-reflex (DSLR) camera coupled with a 100mm macro lens and ring light offers a much better chance to maintain consistent lighting and image quality (See Figure 1). The camera and lighting settings can be dialed in and then maintained for each intraoral image from case to case, time after time.

Magnification Ratios: In order to obtain the most consistent image from the before to the after photo, a dentist needs to ensure they are using the proper magnification ratios. Once the camera, lens, and lighting has been dialed in, the distance from the end of the lens to the subject (patient) has to be maintained for each image. This ratio is often denoted on the top portion of the lens itself. When taking a full headshot, the magnification ratio would be in the 1:15 or 1:infinity (See Figure 2) by zooming the lens all the way out to capture the patient from the top of the head to the crest of the shoulders. However, when moving closer to the patient to take a simple smile photo of only the lips and teeth, the ratio would be 1:3 (See Figure 3). By maintaining the same magnification ratios for each type of picture, the lighting, lens focus, and image quality will be consistent from each photo to the next.

Lab Communication: When it comes to any indirect esthetic case, laboratory communication is paramount to ensure success. Something as simple as a pre-operative shade photo with a shade tab next to the teeth can provide incredibly useful information. To go one step further, Polar Eyes filters (See Figure 4), similar to that of polarized sunglasses, can be placed on the camera in order to remove the glare from the enamel. This allows a ceramist to see the underlying characteristics of the enamel and dentin shades to obtain a better shade match for the final restoration. Another important piece of information for the lab would be a series of photos taken with the provisionals in the mouth after the teeth have been prepared. This gives the laboratory technician the ability to determine incisal edge positioning and golden proportions for anterior teeth as it relates to facial harmony.

Figure 4

Social Media: Once a case is finished, the after photoshoot becomes a time to celebrate the patient and all of the hard work that went into the case. Social media platforms are an avenue for dentists to promote their esthetic cases all with simply using before and after photos (See Figure 5). Most social media platforms allow dentists to post their photos free of charge and can be an effective way of marketing to new patients. Knowing that each photo was taken with a good setup, under the proper magnification ratios and all the details communicated to the lab, the final social media post simply becomes the “cherry on top” (See Figure 6 – Miss Pennsylvania 2022).

For dentists desiring to do more esthetically driven cases, dental photography could be the simple yet effective tool to help take their practice to the next level.

Dr. Sisler operates a cosmetic dental practice in Shippensburg, Pennsylvania where he also teaches hands-on dental photography and over-the-shoulder esthetic courses. Please go to to learn more or scan the QR code located here.