A dental impression serves as a mold of your mouth. Your dentist uses an impression when an exact replica of your mouth is needed to create dentures, crowns or dental appliances, such as Invisalign clear aligners (an alternative to traditional metal braces). It only takes a few minutes for your dentist to make an impression, but it is a very important step in your treatment plan.

Why Does My Dentist Need an Impression?

Impressions are used when you need:

  • Crowns
  • Dentures
  • Dental veneers
  • Braces and other types of orthodontia
  • Nightguards
  • Custom teeth-whitening trays
  • Mouthguards for sports

What Happens When I Get an Impression?

The first step of the impression process involves washing and drying the tooth or teeth. In some cases, such as if you are getting veneers on all your teeth, every single one of your teeth will be washed. If you are just getting a crown on one tooth, only that tooth will be washed; although the impression material will cover all your upper or lower teeth.

To create the material used to make an impression, your dentist will mix a special seaweed-based powder called alginate with water until it is the consistency of putty. He or she will place the putty in a u-shaped tray that follows the curve of your upper or lower teeth. If impressions of your upper and lower teeth are needed, an impression of your lower teeth is usually made first.

The tray is placed firmly against your teeth and gums, where it remains for two or three minutes. When the tray is removed, you will notice that the putty no longer looks liquid but is firm and rubbery.

Your dentist will pour plaster into the impression to create the mold that will be used to make an appliance, crown, dentures or veneers.

Worried About Gagging?

Some people worry about gagging when they get a dental impression, especially if they have a very active gag reflex. This is usually more of a problem when you receive an upper impression because it may feel as if the putty is running down your throat, even though it actually is not.

If you let your dentist know that you are concerned about gagging, he or she will help you feel more comfortable during the process. If you wish, a numbing spray can applied to the back of your throat to reduce your gag reflex. Nitrous oxide, commonly called laughing gas, can also be helpful if you have a particularly strong gag reflex. The gas inhibits your gag reflex and makes it much easier to tolerate the impression process.

These tips can help you avoid gagging during a dental impression:

  • Breathe slowly through your nose.
  • Resist the urge to swallow. If saliva builds up in your mouth, drool into a napkin but do not swallow. Swallowing at this point can trigger the gag reflex.
  • Sit forward. When you tilt your head forward, the impression material will not be able to slide back toward your throat.
  • Think about something pleasant. Whether you focus on your favorite vacation spot or relive the highlights of the movie you watched the night before, thinking about other things can make the process easier.
  • Ask your dentist to talk to you. Listening to someone else share a story or even explain the next step in your dental treatment is a good way to take the focus off of your temporary discomfort.

Before you know it, it will be time to remove the impression tray from your mouth. You may just be surprised at how easy the process was, despite your fears.

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Try One of These Alternative to Metal BracesĀ 

Would you like to straighten your teeth but do not like the look or hassle of metal braces? Try one of these alternatives.


The Invisalign system involves the use of a series of clear, removable aligners to gently move teeth into position. No one will know you are wearing them, and you can remove them to eat and to clean them.

Clear Correct

The Clear Correct system is similar to Invisalign. Every few weeks, you will use a new set of aligners that will move your teeth into the proper alignment. Since you will remove the aligners to eat, you can eat popcorn and other foods that are off limits to people who wear metal braces.

Six Month Smiles

If you are not concerned about your bite and only want to straighten your teeth, Six Month Smiles is a good solution. As the name implies, straightening happens in just six months. The clear braces are attached to your teeth, and low pressure is used to move them into position.

If you are interested in learning more about the alternative treatment options to traditional metal braces, contact our office today. We can answer your questions and schedule an appointment for you to learn more.