Dental impressions are imprints of your teeth, gums and surrounding oral structures. They’re used to create diagnostic models of your mouth, as well as dental restorations, whitening, trays, retainers, mouth guards and more. Dental impressions can be traditional or digital.
Dental impressions are imprints of your teeth, gums or other structures inside of your mouth. Traditional dental impressions are taken with a special putty, while digital dental impressions use a handheld wand and computer software to capture images.
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Dental impressions are used to create models, or casts, of your mouth. These models show your dentist how your dental arches fit together, as well as the size and relationship of your teeth and gums. Dental impressions are used for a wide range of dental restorations and oral appliances, including:
There are three primary types of dental impressions: preliminary, final and bite registration:
When making dental impressions, your healthcare provider may use traditional dental putty or digital dental impressions. While the outcomes are similar, the procedures are different.
During this procedure, your healthcare provider dispenses a putty-like dental impression material into plastic or metal trays. Next, they’ll place the trays over your teeth. After a minute or two, the dental impression material sets and hardens. Finally, your healthcare provider removes the trays (and impression material) from your mouth.
Your impressions are then sent to a dental laboratory. There, a technician will pour stone into your dental impressions to create a cast of your mouth.
Many dental offices now have the ability to take digital dental impressions. During this procedure, your healthcare provider uses a digital handheld wand to capture thousands of pictures of your teeth and gums. As your healthcare provider passes the wand over your teeth, images of your mouth will come up on a computer screen. Next, the computer software will stitch the images together, creating a digital, 3D representation of your dental arches. There’s no need for putty when taking digital dental impressions.
Your healthcare provider will then electronically deliver your photo files to a dental lab. There, a technician will begin working on your case.
If you’re having impressions made with traditional dental putty, the material usually sets in about three to five minutes. Overall, a dental impression procedure takes about 15 minutes or less.
In most instances, there isn’t any pain from putty impressions. However, they can trigger a gag reflex in some people, which can be uncomfortable.
The majority of the time, dental impressions don’t pull teeth out. But if you have teeth that are already loose due to trauma or severe gum disease, it could happen. Your dentist will talk with you about this possibility and address the problem if it happens.
Once your dental impressions are complete, your healthcare provider will send them to a laboratory. A trained dental technician will begin working on your case.
This process can take anywhere from one week to several weeks, depending on your specific situation. For example, if you need one dental crown, it usually takes less time compared to someone who needs multiple crowns. Processing times can also vary due to geographical location and how many cases the lab is working on at the time.
If necessary, your dentist can place a temporary restoration while you’re waiting on your case to be completed. This is common practice for people who are missing a front tooth. That way, you won’t have a gap in your smile in the meantime.
Generally, there aren’t any major risks associated with dental impressions. But some people have a gag reflex that’s triggered by the dental impression procedure. In these cases, your dentist can work with you to minimize discomfort.
As mentioned, teeth that are already very loose can potentially come out in the impression material. This is rare, but your dentist will help you find a solution if this should happen.
Once your dental impressions have been used to make a cast of your teeth, they’re generally thrown away. However, your dental casts will be sent back to your dentist, where they’ll be kept as part of your records for a period of time. In some circumstances, your dentist can even reuse your dental casts to make additional restorations or appliances.
A good dental impression ensures that your new restoration or appliance fits exactly as it should. Poor-quality impressions can result in poor fit and function.
A note from Cleveland Clinic
Dental impressions are an essential aspect of dentistry today. Without them, custom dental restorations wouldn’t be possible. While getting dental impressions may be slightly inconvenient or uncomfortable, the benefit of a beautiful, healthy smile is worth it.
Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 04/05/2022.
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