Saturday, February 18, 2017

Reflections on mirrors for dental photography

Quality mirrors are a must for dental photography. Here's what to look for:
  1. Front surface plating - The best image quality you will get is when the reflective plating is ON TOP of the glass, not under it.  Rhodium is affordable and effective, though there are better choices I'll discuss later. We all know this on some level, that's why we all buy front surface mouth mirrors for our day to day dentistry.

    The downside of front surface mirrors is scratch resistance, or the lack thereof.  So baby your mirrors.  More on that later. All mirrors eat 50-80% of the flash lighting they receive. Better mirrors are more reflective, but also more expensive.
  2. The occlusal arch and buccal mirrors.  If I had to have only two shapes, it would be the occlusal arch mirror (which looks like a large rounded rectangle) and the buccal mirror (which happens to look like a lower case "b").
Occlusal mirror - pick a long one - easier to keep your hands out of the picture

Buccal mirror - looks like a letter "b", "d" or "p"
I can shoot more different shots with this mirror than any other.

Where to buy cheap mirrors

The eBay option.  We have several of the mirrors linked above.  The image quality is decent. They are not exceptionally bright, but usable. The one noticeably concession is the edging.  It's not rough enough to cut anyone, but it's just not as smooth, either. 

Where to get better mirrors.  

If you want higher quality mirrors, go to photomed.  Their titanium surface mirrors are noticeably brighter.  You will pay more, but they should last longer, too.

Why would you want a brighter mirror? (added 7/11/2019)
If you're ever used Zirc's Crystal mouth mirrors, you already know the answer to this.  If not, get them...they are a life changer.

A brighter mirror reflects more light.  More light makes your autofocus significantly faster.  It makes aiming easier, also.  Your typical intraoral flash has more than enough power to compensate for a dull mirror, BUT the recycle time will suffer if you have a dim mirror.  If you press the shutter while the flash is recycling, you'll get a dark picture.

For thsoe using continuous LED lighting, a brighter mirror is even more important.  The light of a flash is very brief, so your effective shutter speed ALWAYS freezes any movement.  But if you have a mirror that is half as brighter, you'll get twice the motion blur.  Reflecting more light allows your camera to using faster shutter speeds.  Exposing the sensor to light for a briefer period prevents shutter shake and motion blur.

In my informal testing, the brightest titanium mirror in my collection was almost a full stop (as in twice as) brighter than my dullest rhodium mirrors.  It would be another half stop brighter than polished steel.

A more efficient mirror becomes more and more relevant as more and more people shoot with mirrorless cameras and smartphones, both of which need more light than SLR's to focus.

Mirrors to avoid:

Practicon sells "DoctorEyes" mirrors.  Worst purchase ever.  They are rear plated, so you frequently get a double image.  Avoid them at all costs.

Stainless steel mirrors - not only are not as reflective, polished stainless steel rapid degrades as the mirror accumulates scratches.  Stick with rhodium plated mirrors, or better yet, titanium surface.

Proper care 

Wrap the mirror in a small micro-fiber towel, then into the sterilization pouch.  When you unwrap it, spray a little eyeglass cleaner and wipe it with the towel before use.  (sometimes we steam clean the mirrors, which also makes the warmer and more fog resistant.)  After use, spray and wipe again, then wrap the towel around the mirror again.  Put it in the pouch for autoclaving.  DO NOT put your mirror in the ultrasonic cleaning unit with your other instruments.    

Thanks for reading!


  1. Great blog! Thanks for the tips and links - very much appreciated!!

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  4. Vu, you may want to re-visit doctor eyes. They are SINGLE sided. So you will get double image if you use the wrong side. The Doctor Eyes have been some of the clearest images we have found. I dont work for any company, im just a general dds, no financial interest.

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