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Why Dentists Need to Take Impressions of Your Teeth

Taking an Alginate Dental Impression - Photo Courtesy of SuperWebDeveloperAs I've been assisting the third and fourth-year dental students in the clinic over the past couple of years, I've had the opportunity of taking quite a few impressions on many different patients.

I think the whole impression and plaster pouring ordeal is kind of interesting.  However, many students and patients don't seem to love it.

The whole process is a bit messy.  Inevitably, the patient needs help removing the impression material that got stuck on his or her face.  Also, it leaves a bad taste in their mouths.

Oddly enough, it doesn't appear as though the man to the left is having the time of his life while his impression is being taken.

So why do we take those dental impressions anyways?

Why Dentists Need to Take Impressions of Your Mouth

A dentist might need an impression of your teeth for many reasons.  A few of the more common reasons are:

  1. To make a removable partial denture or a complete denture
  2. To make a conventional dental crown - the newer Cerec in-office crowns can take digital impressions, without the need for the messy impression material.
  3. To make bridges or fixed partial dentures.
  4. To analyze the relationship of your jaws.  This can be useful for orthodontic treatment as well as an evaluation for oral surgery.
  5. To make a custom mouthguard for protection while playing sports or to wear at night to prevent teeth grinding.
  6. To make custom teeth whitening trays.
  7. To make oral appliances such as space maintainers.
  8. To know how your teeth look in case you chip or damage one or more so that they can be properly restored to their ideal shape and size.
Dental Cast

When the dentist takes a good impression, it is easy to visualize the crown and bridgework that will go into the mouth to make sure everything will fit perfectly.

These are just a few of the reasons that I could think of.  There may be many more.  If your dentist wants to take an impression of your teeth, then he or she likely has a good reason.  It is always a good idea to communicate with your dentist to find out the reasons behind their actions, whether they include taking dental impressions or not.

If you have an experience with a dental impression that you'd like to share, or if you have any questions or comments, please leave them below in the comments section.


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12 Comments |  Leave A Comment

  1. Hi
    How painful are dental impressions and what is the step by step process?

    • Hi Chris - They shouldn't be painful. The step by step process is normally:

      1 - We try an empty tray in your mouth to make sure it is the right size.
      2 - We fill the tray with the impression material.
      3 - We insert the tray in and have you close your lips around it so the material goes up around your teeth where we need it to go.
      4 - We wait for it to set up, and then remove the impression tray from your mouth.

      I hope that helps, let me know if you have any other questions.

      • Hi thanks for that. My friend has had impressions and he said it was really painful. Why would that be? Also will it make me sick because of my gag reflexes?

        • Hi Chris - The pain may be from a tray that doesn't fit properly. It's a good idea to have your dentist try the tray in your mouth first without any impression material to make sure that it's not pushing up against the gums/lips/cheek. I'm guessing the reason that it hurt was because part of the hard tray was pressing into something that it shouldn't have.

          It can be challenging to take impressions on people with gag reflexes. I think the worst case scenario would be that you would have to remove the impression tray before it had completely set up. If that's the case, have the dentist/dental assistant try putting in less impression material the next time around.

          I hope that helps - Let me know if you have any other questions.

          • Hi me again! I am going for impressions on Wednesday but my gag reflexes are really bad! I have had impressions once before and I had to be held dOwn for them as I took it out before it harder and didn't want to have it done again! Is there anything I can do to help Or anything another dentist could do?

  2. Whats the stuff they use for impressions. It almost sounds like al-ca-nee

  3. It is definitely a scary situation, or at least it was for me. Yesterday I went to have impressions both upper and lower. He started with the top. They were stuck, after janking and janking forever it seemed and nothing he ended up having to give me anesthetic shots (4 or 5) and it felt like my remaining teeth were going to be janked out with the impression. The worst part of all this is that I have to do the bottom in 10 days and now I'm petrified, but have to go cause I can't leave this as they are. Is this what cave men used?? or maybe Chinese torture. Today I feel as I have just lost a heavyweight match or been in a wreck and I have whiplash. Any suggestions? and don't tell me to breathe through my nose doesn't work!!

    • Hey Tom! About a week ago i asked my mom what they do to get the gooey impressions off your teeth
      and she said that it just hardens... But i was wondering, when they take it off does rip out your teeth?
      -Annabel :)

  4. Trust me i am totally with you i am totally scared out of my wits probably more
    scared than get any shots!!!! I am hyperventilating, not kidding!!!
    -Annabel :(

  5. My dentist prepped my tooth and forgot to make a tooth impression first. Will this pose a problem with my bite?

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Tom, Creator of Oral AnswersHi, I'm Tom. I recently graduated from dental school and am now a dentist in Bridgewater, Virginia. I started this blog to help people take better care of their teeth. You can learn more about me or ask me a question.

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