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The Past, Present and Future of Dental Impressions

If you’ve ever needed serious dental work done (like implants or orthodontic work), then you are familiar with dental impressions. A dental impression is a negative imprint of hard tissues (your teeth) and soft tissues (your gums) in the mouth. This imprint is taken so that a positive reproduction of your teeth can be made. 


Impressions can be used to create mouth guards, whitening trays, retainers, crowns, bridges, veneers, dentures, and accurate models of your mouth, and therefore are a necessary evil that can’t be avoided. Thanks to new dental technologies, however, the dreaded tray impressions might now be a thing of the past. 

 The Past, Present and Future of Dental Impressions

If you have concerns about your upcoming appointment at Josey Lane Density or are putting off dental work due to a fear of undergoing the dental impressions process, let our staff know and we will work with you to resolve fears and make your experience as stress-free as possible. 


The history of dental impressions 


The concept of the impressionmaking process in dentistry began in the mideighteenth century. Dentists realized that the construction of any prosthetic restoration required a detailed capture of the oral tissues. Beeswax was the first material used to aid in the capturing of these early impression. The wax was softened in hot water, then placed in the mouth, then molded to the teeth. Once removed, plaster of Paris was used to create a mold of the mouth. 


The first trays (similar to what we are used to today) were intruded in the 1820s. Rather than using wax alone, a metal tray lined it with wax was used to get a better imprint. The trays also kept the cheeks from getting in the way of the impression. By the 1870s, trays were made of light upper and lower-jaw metal trays that came in three sizes and were used with plaster, very similar to the method used by dentists today. 


The need for dental impressions 


Impressions are used in diagnosis and treatment planning, when making prosthetics, in orthodontics and in restorative dentistry. If you or a child are an athlete, you might also have also have experience with dental impressions when getting fitted for a mouth guard.  


Types of dental impressions 


There are three main types of dental impressions — preliminary, final, and bite registration. 

  • Preliminary impressions are accurate reproductions of a patient’s mouth. This type of impression is usually used to construct study models for the diagnosis, documentation of dental arches, and as a visual aid for education.  
  • Final impressions have the exact details of the tooth structures and their surrounding tissues. They are used to make casts with the precise details of the tooth structures and their surrounding tissues. Dental casts and dies are utilized by dental laboratory technicians for the construction of crowns, bridges, dentures, and other tooth restorations.  
  • Bite registrations are employed to document the occlusal relationship between arches, which is essential when establishing the articulation of maxillary and mandibular casts. 


A common concern: the gag reflex 


Many of our Carrollton patients tell us that they avoid impressions because it makes them gag. We know the feeling of having the tray in your mouth can be scary and even cause feelings of anxiety leading up to an appointment. There are ways to reduce the severity of your gag reflex during procedures like dental impressions, however, if you let your dentist know about your concerns beforehand. 


Your gag reflex is your body’s natural defense mechanism intended to keep foreign objects out of your upper respiratory tract. When your body senses something other than air headed toward your larynx, pharynx or trachea, your muscles spasm and contract uncontrollably as your body tries to force the foreign objects away from your airway. When your dentist puts the dental impression tray in your mouth, the tray and the viscous impression material can cause your gag reflex to engage. To avoid this feeling, there are several techniques you can employ to calm the reflex, including:  


  • Breathing through your nose. Not only will this have a calming effect, it will also help prevent panic attacks that result from a fear of not being able to catch your breath.  
  • Don’t be afraid of drooling. Trying to hold in drool could lead to the feeling of choking.  
  • Ask to sit up and lean slightly forward. This will ensure any extra saliva will drain towards the front of the mouth and away from your throat. 
  • If you suffer from panic attacks, you can even discuss the use of nitrous oxide with your dentist. This can help calm you down and make the process far more relaxed. 


The future of dental impressions 


If you’re wondering why we’re still using the same technology for impressions that we invented almost two hundred years ago, you wouldn’t be wrong! But now, thanks to improvements in dental technology, your dentist can take an impression of your mouth digitally. 


A digital dental impression is a scan that creates a map of your teeth, which allows you and your dentist to view your teeth on a computer screen instead. Digital impressions allow dentists to gather all the information they need about your mouth to create your crown, bridge, retainer, or other dental treatment. 


Another benefit to digital impressions is that they can create more accurate representations of the mouth and are less likely to have mistakes as a result of human error. What’s more, having the impression done digitally increases efficiency by streamlining the production of restoration. Digital scans never degrade, can be reused, are easily stored with your digital patient files indefinitely. Furthermore, digital impressions create a better patient experience by eliminating the need to bite into a tray of impression material, sometimes more than once and over the course of three appointments. 


Are you anticipating a dental impression in your future? Contact us with any additional questions you have!  

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2440 North Josey Lane #102, Carrollton, TX 75006 Phone: 972-242-1592
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