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How to Take Dental Impressions?

Kayla Orange

Written by Kayla Orange

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If you’re thinking about straightening your teeth, you may be intimidated by the idea of taking dental impressions. Luckily, making an impression of your teeth is fairly simple and virtually painless. Follow along as we explain what dental impressions are and how you can take your own impressions at home.

What Are Dental Impressions?

Dental impressions are typically the first step to create a new appliance for your teeth. Although they are frequently used to make crowns or bridges for compromised or missing teeth, dental impressions are also common for cosmetic dentistry and orthodontics. The process for making clear teeth aligners, including Invisalign, byte, and SmileDirectClub, all start with dental impressions.

what is a dental impression

There are various types of dental impressions on the market; however, making a dental impression at home is relatively simple. If you never heard of dental impressions before, don’t worry- making impressions isn’t painful, and it only takes a few minutes. The most common method involves gently biting down on an impression tray filled with a putty-like material. The dental impression putty hardens quickly after removal, leaving behind an exact mold of your teeth.

Dental impressions are important because no two smiles are the same. Your teeth are unique. The impressions ensure that a new appliance sits properly in your mouth and won’t cause irritation. Follow along for a complete guide to dental impressions and how you can take them at home.

Types of Dental Impressions

One popular dental appliance provider used by dental professionals is First Impressions Dental. They create dental appliances using impressions and could not complete their work without them.

There are two basic types of dental impressions- dental impression kits and dental impressions by a 3D scan. Each type is effective. However, there are pros and cons to both. If you’re planning on straightening your teeth with at-home aligners, you may have one or both options, depending on the company you choose.

Dental Impression Kits

Dental impression kits are most commonly used for treatment with at-home teeth aligners. But the process is about the same for in-office options, like Invisalign. As we previously discussed, the most common method for making dental impressions uses an impression tray that resembles a nightguard, filled with dental impression putty.

Dental Impression home
Dental Impression Kits

If you choose to order an impression kit, it will be mailed to your home for you to take the impressions yourself. The kit will include dental impression materials to make the putty, impression trays, and instructions for how to take dental impressions.

You’ll take the impressions at home and then mail them back to the company to create your custom teeth aligners. After a few weeks, you’ll receive your aligners in the mail and can start treatment.

Dental Impressions by 3D Scan

Most dentists/orthodontists and some at-home aligner companies offer 3D scans as an alternative to the traditional dental impression kit. 3D scans are taken by a certified dental professional and are used to create a full picture of your mouth and teeth. This method is especially useful for orthodontics and cosmetic dentistry when you need a more comprehensive view of the patient’s teeth from every angle.

Dental Impressions by 3D Scan
Dental Impressions by 3D Scan

To take the scan, a dental assistant or technician will use a 3D camera to take thousands of pictures of your teeth per second, capturing every part of your smile. The entire process only takes a few minutes and is virtually painless. Once the scan is complete, the technician will send the images off to a lab to create your custom aligners or retainers.

This method of making dental impressions is very popular for Invisalign patients. Check out our Invisalign reviews for more info.

How To Make Dental Impressions At Home

If you’re starting clear aligner treatment, you may need to take your impressions at home. Making dental impressions yourself is not difficult. But you must follow each step in your impression kit carefully to ensure you make a good impression. The most important steps to take dental impressions at home are:

Step 1: Wash your hands and brush your teeth

The very first step you should take is to wash your hands. You are going to be putting your fingers in your mouth– not ideal, we know. But you can make the process as hygienic as possible by ensuring your hands are clean and dry before you get started.

Next, brush your teeth. You don’t want any food or plaque getting in the way of your impression. This could lead to your impressions being “off” in certain spots, causing your aligners not to fit correctly. Play it safe, and make sure your teeth are nice and clean before you attempt to take impressions.

Step 2: Try if the dental impression tray fits

Your dental impression trays must fit correctly in order to make a good impression. Before you start mixing the impression putty, try the provided impression trays on your top and bottom teeth. Insert them in your mouth by aiming at the tray’s center at the midpoint of your teeth.

Make sure that the trays are not too big or too small, and that they do not scratch or irritate your teeth and gums. The tray should cover all of your teeth, including your back molars. If the trays don’t fit, contact the company for a different size. A poorly fitting impression tray will almost always lead to a bad impression, so always aim for the best fit possible.

Step 3: Mix the dental impression putty

Every dental impression kit is slightly different, but none of them come premixed. This is because dental impression material hardens very quickly, so you need to mix the putty right before you’re ready to take your impressions.

To mix the impression putty, start by setting a timer for 30 seconds. Try to finish mixing in that time to avoid early hardening. Your kit will likely come with two containers of different colored materials. Your instructions will explain how to combine the two materials until they create one solid color, with no streaks. At this point, you’re ready to fill the impression tray and take your impression.

Step 4: Take the dental impressions

Using your hands, form the putty into a small sausage shape, long enough to reach both ends of the impression tray. Pack the putty into the tray, making sure it is filled completely, up to the edges. Aim to finish this step in about 15 seconds.

Next, open your mouth as wide as possible and position your teeth in the middle of the tray. Using your thumbs, push the tray onto your teeth until you feel the putty slide out onto your gums. Your teeth should just slightly touch the bottom of the tray. Pull your lips up over the tray and leave it in your mouth for approximately 3-4 minutes (your instructions will include exact timing).

Finally, pull the tray off your teeth and repeat the process to create impressions of your lower and upper arch. Leave the hardened impressions in the trays to send back to the company.

Do’s Taking Your Dental Impression Kits

Taking dental impressions at home does not have to be a complicated process. As long as you follow the kit instructions carefully, you will typically create an adequate impression. Still, there are a few helpful tips that you can use to ensure your impressions are accurate and precise.

Gumline present
Gumline present
One of the most common mistakes when taking impressions is not fully capturing both your teeth and gums. Make sure your gumline is present in your impression by using your thumbs to firmly and evenly press the tray onto your teeth. Don’t stop pushing until your teeth lightly hit the tray. Using this method, you should end up with a full impression of your teeth and gums, including a clear, visible gumline.
Uniform mixing of the dental impression putty
Uniform mixing of the dental impression putty
Your impression putty will not come premixed. You will need to mix two different materials to create the putty for your impressions. The materials are typically in different colors. However, the mixture will turn into one solid color once it has been mixed properly. It is essential that you mix the materials according to the kit instructions. Failing to mix the ingredients thoroughly will cause your putty to appear streaky and discolored. Poorly mixed putty will also not set correctly and will usually result in an unusable impression.
Be careful that the dental impression tray doesn't move
Be careful that the dental impression tray doesn't move
Moving the impression tray while you’re taking your impression could cause it to become distorted or inaccurate. Avoid this by using your thumbs to gently hold the tray in place for the entire 3-4 minutes, making sure it does not move in the process. Most impression kits come with a few back-up trays, so don’t get discouraged if you accidentally move the tray on your first try. Taking impressions is a skill, and it may take more than one attempt to make it precise.
Make sure you make enough pressure
Make sure you make enough pressure
When you’re pushing the tray onto your teeth, it is essential to apply even pressure to both sides. Using too much or too little pressure on one side could lead to uneven or poorly fitting aligners. Again, the best way to avoid this is to apply even pressure and try your best not to move the tray once it’s on your teeth. Place one thumb on each side of your mouth at the same time to keep the pressure constant and equal until the impression has been made.

The process is very similar for every brand, but there are some that offers 3D scan instead of dental impressions. To learn more about each brand’s process, check our review of the top 6 home teeth aligners.


What are dental impressions for?

Dental impressions are used for a variety of dental treatments. Whenever a dentist or orthodontist needs to place a foreign object on your teeth, they make dental impressions to ensure it will align perfectly with your smile and bite. The impressions create an exact mold of your teeth so that the object feels more natural in your mouth and won’t irritate your cheeks and gums.

When are dental impressions used?

Dental impressions are the most common preliminary step to create many dental appliances, including bridges, crowns, aftercare retainers, and clear teeth aligners. Companies like First Impressions Dental collaborate with dentists and aligner providers by using these impressions to provide dental appliances.

Which is better? 3D scans or dental impression kits?

3D scans typically provide a more thorough picture of the entire mouth, and so they are preferred by most dentists and orthodontists. Impression kits are very effective. However, they leave more room for human error. 3D scans ensure accuracy the first time, every time, and certified dental professionals are the only people who can take them. Still, you’ll have to make an in-person appointment to receive a 3D scan. Dental impression kits are delivered straight to your home and require no office visits. So, they may be a more convenient choice for you.

If you prefer to take impressions yourself, consider checking out our byte aligners review. Byte stands out against its competitors for taking extra safety precautions, and their impression kits include detailed, easy-to-follow instructions.

Dental impressions material: What is it made of?

Most dental impression putty is made of a material called alginate. It is a soft, pliable material that hardens rapidly, making it perfect for taking dental impressions. Alginate usually does not have any flavors added, but you may taste its natural flavor during the impression process. It won’t be particularly tasty, but it shouldn’t be too unpleasant either.

How long does it take to take a dental impression?

Timing for taking dental impressions varies. However, it usually takes about 3-4 minutes.

How much dental impressions cost?

Pricing for dental impressions also varies, depending on the treatment you choose. If you’re visiting a dentist or orthodontist in person, the cost of impressions is typically included in your cost of treatment. Dentists collaborate with companies like First Impressions Dental to create your aligners but take the impressions in-office first.

If you choose at-home aligners, you may have to purchase an impression kit. Byte offers impression kits for $95. The leading home aligner provider, SmileDirectClub, offers impression kits for $59. SmileDirectClub also offers free 3D scans at their retail locations as an alternative to impression kits. Check out our Smile Direct Club Review for a more detailed look at their impression options.

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