The History of Intraoral Cameras


Since photography was presented to the world by Louis J. M. Daguerre on January 7, 1839 at the Paris Academy of Sciences, there was the idea of using it for objectively reproducing and recording visual dental images. It was Alexander S. Wolcott, who manufactured dental instruments in New York, who, later in 1839, patented the first camera from Daguerre’s concept.

These first dental intraoral cameras were cumbersome and required a large amount of space in the dental office. The intra oral camera price was also very high at about $40,000 per unit.

This amazing new possibility with photographs inspired the first dental journal in the world, the American Journal of Dental Science. Preoperative as well as postoperative dental photographs were published by Thompson and Ide. From that time, dentists have used extra-oral cameras to precisely capture images inside the oral cavity. This was a boon for restorative and cosmetic dentistry because dentists could monitor oral conditions to create the most aesthetic outcomes.

The first true intra oral camera (IOC) was launched in the late 1980s. It was an Analog IOC System. Fuju Optical Systems of Los Gatos, California got the registered trademark of an intraoral camera on July 7, 1987 and, in that same year, launched the DentaCam.

Two years later, another company created a dental intraoral camera that had a endoscopic hand piece. It was considered ground-breaking because it was the first component-based intraoral dental camera that had a dental endoscope, a remote head micro-camera and a light source. This was the standard intraoral camera for years to come.

Endoscopes have been used for many years in gastroenterology, but the potential for intraoral cameras continued to improve as they became more enhanced by manufacturers. Several imaging systems were used in other areas of medicine for digital pictures and enhanced with computer software. This reimaging became used in destistry in the late 1980s mainly to educate patients and help plan treatments for altering anatomical oral frameworks.

These first dental intraoral cameras were cumbersome and required a large amount of space in the dental office. The intra oral camera price was also very high at about $40,000 per unit. The box had a hand piece, a large video processor box, dedicated computer with a floppy disc drive for saving and transferring still images as well as a VCR for viewing video images taken by the camera. Compared to today’s technology, these systems were massive. Gradually the systems became more compact and economical.

Today, a wand camera intraoral is about the size of the previous hand piece and costs less than $5,000. The cumbersome docking station has been replaced with a USB connectivity and is lightweight and much easier to operate as well as more powerful, taking higher quality images. These major technological upgrades have made the system easy to use requiring very little training and a standard part of every operatory.

The main advantage of a camera intra oral compared to an extra oral digital camera is the quality of images. The IOC also has a much faster speed and the images can be seen almost immediately on the screen. With an extra oral camera, after turning on the camera, retractors and mirrors need to be set up, the shot needs to be framed, the picture taken and down loaded into the software. This takes a lot of time.

Intra oral cameras are extremely useful for patient education. When a person visits the dentist for a check-up, they may not think there is anything wrong with their teeth, because they have no pain or other issues. However, during the examination, the dentist may find things that need immediate attention. With an IOC, the dentist can show, through real-time photos, any dental issues. For example, gum disease may be in the beginning stages where it doesn’t hurt or show. If it is treated early, it will not spread and cause serious problems later. If the patient can actually see the disease in their mouth, they will be more willing to let the dentist treat it, than if they are just told about it, because, after all, it doesn’t hurt.

Images taken with an IOC device can be printed and duplicated immediately and the patient can take them to their insurance provider if necessary. These images have become so main stream that some insurance companies will accept emailed images. This is much more eco-friendly because it reduces the amount of paper required in the dentist’s office.

There are many feature options in different brands of IOCs including disposable probe covers, so each patient gets a fresh, clean probe. There are also low-tech versions to use at home. Some of the most common design options are:

  • Wireless or corded connectivity
  • LED lighting
  • Fixed or variable focus
  • Magnification to 100X
  • Angle views from 0 to 90 degrees
  • 45 degree mirror attachment
  • Attachments for periodontal probes and for a single toothFoot or fingertip image capture switches
  • SC card storage and specialized imaging software

The images taken with an IOC can also be used for consultations between dentists. One dentist can take a picture of a tooth or section of the jaw and send it to a specialist in oral surgery. The imagery is so detailed that the specialist will get a complete idea of the problem before even meeting the patient.

Some tips for implementing IOC systems:

  • The images should be properly stored and organized, so they are easy to access. The files should also be backed-up every day on an offsite component in the event of flood, fire or theft.
  • One person in the office may be designated to take the intraoral photos. This person will develop his or her skills and become the expert in the office.
  • Before buying an IOC system, several brands should be researched in order to select the one that fits seamlessly with the existing office system and software.