In defense of dental Instagram

First of all, right off the top, let me just state that I don’t think that Instagram is for everyone. Nothing is for everyone. When Josh Austin sent me his post about Instagram that he planned to publish with the Hacks, I found it compelling. And I was mostly glad that he wrote it as I thought it would likely resonate with many readers. However, I had some mixed emotions about some of the things that he stated in the article, and so I’ve decided to write a counterpoint.

It’s not easy to put an opinion piece out there like the one that Josh wrote. It takes an introspective person to admit they feel ill-at-ease about something and to then go examine the cause and contributing factors. It takes a very brave person to share all that information with the masses. As having done this now several times myself, it’s not easy. So regardless of the content at hand, I applaud Josh for his bravery here.

And now, to dive right in.

Hard core dental pornography is bad for our psyches. It makes us question our skills in treatment planning. It makes us question our ability to get patients to say yes. It makes us question our skills in delivering ‘life changing dentistry’.

In response to this, I suppose I might posit:

Is it that the photographs are “making” us think these things, or is the mindset about the photographs making it so? What might happen if we reframe, or shift our mindset?

It’s been over a year now since I created my main dental account @stephaniezellerdds. I created it initially at the behest of insta-famous prosthodontist (and now very close friend) Miguel Ortiz, @dr_miguel_ortiz. As he had over 70k followers when I first met him in person, I was surprised at his equanimity and friendliness. He was warm and encouraging. He suggested to me that I create an account to share my work. I had a few reasons for giving into the suggestion (the same day that he challenged me to do so, in fact):

    1. It looked fun to share work and discuss it with others
    2. I wanted to teach dentists and to lecture, and I thought this might be a good platform to start that in
    3. I thought it might make me better

All three of these reasons turned out to be good ones, as I’ll allude to momentarily. Once I became an active participant in the dental world on Instagram, I was so hooked in fact, that six weeks later, Miguel and I came together to create another account to repost prosth work from all over the world, @BestOfProsth. And now, since March of 2017, I run 5 Instagram accounts. WHY would I do this? What has Instagram done for me?

A lot, in fact. But let me share with you my top three benefits.

1) Instagram inspired me to become a better clinician.

Here’s how my first post on IG went… I made the account, took photos of my work, put them on my computer – zoomed in, and whoa. I realized my work up close wasn’t even remotely as good as I thought it was. I started comparing my work to other IG posts and began seeing flaws in some of my work. But, in seeing my flaws, I saw ways to improve. And slowly, I started improving. Bit by bit, day by day, more and more improvement.

2) Instagram has made me a better photographer.

Josh states in his article,

The answer to the photography question was lots and lots of post processing. These pornographers are spending a ton of time giving their photographs that look with software.

For me, personally, this is false. I do very little post-processing of my photos. Nearly all my US friends posting on IG are in the same boat. The trick, has not been post-processing, but learning how to take good photos with proper lighting. If I do any post work, it is only the adjustment of my light in Lightroom. No one should underestimate the value of good light. With that said, no amount of good light will make bad dentistry look good. This is why I had to become better, then I had to learn how to capture it.

3) Instagram has been a platform that has facilitated meaningful connections for me – worldwide.

This has been the greatest gift I have received from Instagram. The number of people I have met and connected with from around the world has been mind-bending. I’ve made friends, learned from others clinically, in life, and as I mentioned above, it’s created opportunities for me to teach.

In dentistry it’s easy to get locked into the monotony of the day to day and begin to feel like you’re practicing on an island. Instagram provides a way to share and connect with others in a surprisingly meaningful way. And, it builds character, resilience and courage. Once you start sharing on the platform (ie not just watching), there is a palpable energy there. First, there is the fear and nervousness that you get with your first few posts. It’s vulnerable to show your work! But you know what happens when you step out of your comfort zone? Your whole world starts to expand.

In addition, there is an excitement that accompanies meeting new people, connecting with them, sharing ideas, possibly even making new friends. Some of my closest friends in life have been people I met on this platform. I met Naif Sinada, @drsinada, on IG and we created a podcast together (@dentaloutliers) and are now close friends. Laura Moon, @bellevueperiodontist, one of the periodontists that I work closely with to treat patients, I met initially on IG. I recently moved to Seattle, and just threw a party for dentists on IG and we had over 30 dentists in attendance. And just this week I travelled to Europe for vacation, and was able to come a couple days early to Amsterdam to interview someone that again, I met on IG.

Notice one thing that I did not state above, I did not state that you have to do this kind of dentistry and documentation in order to be a good dentist. This sort of documentation is absolutely not required to be good at what you’re doing. Not only that, it’s not practical for everyone to think they can or should acquire this level of documentation for all their cases. From behind the scenes of those perfect finish lines, let me tell you, it DOES take extra time and effort. These last 8 months I was using a microscope for all my dentistry. If I knew I was going to photograph the case, I would likely take extra time to refine it, I would take extra time to take multiple photos, sometimes using two different flash set-ups. Then, there was the cropping, editing, writing the description for the post, the hashtags, followed by engaging with those that comment on the post. This entire process can take a ton of extra time. Is it practical for everyone to do this?! Of course not! One of the biggest reasons I do this besides connecting and learning with others, is to teach. I use many of the cases that I post in lectures, giving me the added benefit and motivation to document. Is Instagram worth your time and efforts? I don’t know, that’s something that you have to decide.

My personal DDS account, @stephaniezellerdds has amassed over 11k followers in the last year. When I first started posting, I had some seasoned IG friends with bigger accounts advise me not to post on digital dentistry on IG because it wasn’t popular yet. You know what I said to that? I said I didn’t care. My goal of my account was not to grow big and fast, it was to connect with people with the same interests that I had in dentistry. I lecture on digital dentistry and am fully immersed in the world of dental technology. I wanted to find other people out there with similar interests. Today, a year later, not only are many of my followers interested in this, but they’re smart and creative and incredibly engaging and I’m learning from many of them, too.

In the end, just like everything else in life, we all have to decide what is best for us. Personally, I think it’s great that Josh figured out that it wasn’t for him, and shared that. Obviously many people will and have resonated with his message. But if you are on the opposite end of the spectrum, and you think this might be for you, then today I would be remiss if I didn’t encourage you to start, just as Miguel had encouraged me. You really never know until you try it yourself. Please, if you have any questions, reach out to me. It’s hard to step outside of our comfort zones sometimes. But man, you just never know… the world might open up and step forward to meet you there.

What has your experience been? I’d love to hear your thoughts and stories. Please feel free to reach out to me via email or on Instagram.

Email: DentalOutliers@gmail.com

IG: @stephaniezellerdds || @dentaloutliers