UW News

February 14, 2002

Digital dental records:Students learning to use digital camers to document their work

Walter Neary
HS News & Community Relations

Students in the UW School of Dentistry are finding a new and high-tech way to communicate with patients and plan comprehensive treatment. They are taking a course in digital photography.

The Clinical Digital Photography Course was offered to fourth-year dental students as a spring quarter elective this past year. Twenty-five students participated. The course was repeated this past summer for the new fourth-year class members so that they could begin documenting their clinical cases. This coming year, a separate training program for interested faculty will begin.

“Students tell us they really find the course interesting and very useful. It has given them a new way of understanding the patient’s needs, and they plan to incorporate photography into their practices,” said Dr. James Steiner, acting dean of the School of Dentistry, clinical professor of endodontics and holder of the Washington Dental Service (WDS) Endowed Chair in Dentistry.

The course includes approximately three hours of visual presentations by Jim Clark, photographer in the Department of Orthodontics, followed by three hours of clinical participation. Students take turns being the photographer and the patient.

Fourth-year student David Keller says it was one of the most useful courses that he has taken. Since the class, Keller has repeatedly checked out digital equipment available under the new program to use with patients.

“A picture is truly worth 1,000 words. Digital photography is a powerful new tool for better communication with patients. I’m now able to actually show a patient the results of neglect — or excellent home care. I can actually show them the hole the caries process has put in their tooth, or how not flossing has caused them to have a rampant infection in their gums. That’s a tremendous reinforcement for oral instructions I give them,” Keller says.

The course objectives are:

  • Each student will demonstrate competency in taking a complete series of digital intraoral photographs.

  • Students will input their images into a computer and adjust the final images using Photoshop 6.0.

  • Each student will print a complete set of their intraoral images for their personal record.

The ultimate goal is to have intraoral digital photography included in the required curriculum for all students and incorporated into the clinical care for patients at the School of Dentistry.

The course was made possible by gifts from dental alumni. Drs. Bryan and Linda Edgar of Federal Way, Wash., donated $110,000 to the 50th Anniversary Dental Alumni Class Challenge, pushing the total to more than $1.025 million. The Edgars stipulated that the funds must be used to purchase dental photography equipment and for an instructional program in dental photography and imaging for pre-doctoral dental students.

As leaders in organized dentistry and strong proponents of continuing education, the Edgars say they themselves have found photography and imaging very useful in their own practice, and say that they can significantly improve the quality of patient care. They also promote comprehensive case documentation for self-evaluation and continued learning.

Dr. Bryan C. Edgar chairs the Washington State Dental Quality Assurance Commission and has served as president of the Washington Academy of General Dentistry, among other professional leadership positions.

Dr. Linda J. Edgar has served as executive director and president of the Washington Academy of General Dentistry. She is a member of the national Academy of General Dentistry Council on Membership. Together, Bryan and Linda Edgar occupy a position on the University of Washington School of Dentistry Dean’s Club Board of Trustees.