UCLA’s Division of Restorative Dentistry recently gave us the opportunity to take an evening introductory dental photography class. We first had a lecture taught by two UCLA alumni that reviewed photography basics, including how to use the school’s official (and heavy) cameras. As someone who has never taken a photography class before, I found the session enlightening! It was my first time learning how to change exposure times, ISO speed settings, and the aperture size, among various other knobs. We were also instructed on how to take photographs of a person’s entire dentition, including face photos for cephalometric analyses. I found it difficult to learn where to situate myself and orient the patient in order to capture the best possible shots. Time is of the essence, since mirrors in mouths and dry, cracked lips are uncomfortable. There is also plenty of saliva and vapor that clouds our hand mirrors, natural processes we forget about as D1s since we’ve only been working on typodonts so far!
The goal of the photography session was to encourage us to develop our photography skills and get into the habit of documenting cases. Dental photographs are extremely useful for case presentations, self-evaluation, and patient care. As was aptly mentioned, photographic evidence might also be of use if a patient files a lawsuit against you. Looking back, I would have loved to see photographs from before and after my orthodontic treatment — I think I would have developed a greater appreciation for the work of my orthodontist and his assistants had I seen the tremendous change in my smile.
Dental photography is a great skill to have as California now offers licensure by portfolio, which is an alternative to the live patient exams for the Western Regional Examining Board (WREB) Examination. California is the only state so far to offer licensing by portfolio, and the first students to graduate via the portfolio examination were from the University of the Pacific (UOP) in 2015. I am not sure about other dental schools, but the first student from UCLA who opted for the portfolio examination graduated in 2016. There is a whole different set of requirements for a portfolio exam instead of a live patient exam, but I think that licensure by portfolio has promising prospects. The national dental student organization, ASDA, has been pushing for licensure reform for a few years now, citing the ethical quandary of treating patients with sub-standard care, thereby forcing them to seek additional care elsewhere. While I do not know much about licensing yet, expect a post sometime in the future about the various types of licensing opportunities!