Digital Impressions vs Traditional Impressions

Digital impression

As you secure the blue bib around your patient’s neck, you see their jaw clench in anticipation of the gooey, cakey dental putty that’s soon to encase their teeth. They gag, attempt to breathe through their nose, and gag again before you remove a perfect replica of their chompers.

Dental impressions allow dentists to produce essential dental restorations for patients, which include crowns, bridges, braces, retainers, dentures, and dental implants. While traditional, putty-like dental impressions have been used since the 1800s, a technical type of dental impression is now readily available: digital impressions. 

In this guide, we’ll discuss the differences between digital impressions vs traditional impressions, and how dental practitioners can implement digital impression systems into their practices. 

Traditional impressions use putty-like materials, such as alginates or polyether vinyl silicones, to create negative molds of a patient’s teeth. 

To obtain one of these molds, dentists must place the putty into a U-shaped tray and insert it into the patient’s mouth. Once the material hardens to the right consistency, dentists can carefully remove the impression and mail the mold to the lab. 

Once at the lab, the dental impression can be used to make any of the following:

  • Crowns
  • Bridges
  • Dental implants
  • Veneers
  • Implant-supported dentures
  • Aligners
  • Retainers
  • Teeth whitening trays
  • Night guards
  • Sports mouth guards

The Traditional Dental Impression Process

When creating a traditional impression, a dental practitioner prepares the putty-like impression material by mixing together the base and catalyst. The putty is then portioned into a plastic or metal tray that’s properly sized for the patient’s mouth. From there, dentists adhere to the following steps:

  • Step 1 – Place the tray into the patient’s mouth and push it against their teeth
  • Step 2 – Wait a few minutes for the material to harden
  • Step 3 – Repeat the process with the other set of teeth
  • Step 4 – Remove the tray and allow the patient to clean any putty residue out of their mouth
  • Step 5 – Send the impression to a dental lab

If this process goes smoothly, it can take around 15 minutes. 

Unfortunately, traditional impressions don’t always go as planned. Dental practitioners will often have to redo the process if the mold gets damaged as it’s removed from the patient’s mouth. 

Another downside of traditional impressions is that they can be very uncomfortable for the patient—as the unpleasant-tasting goop flows outside of the trays, patients may start to gag. 

What Are Digital Impressions?

So, what are digital impressions? While traditional impressions have been used for a long time, digital impressions are quickly eclipsing them as the preferred method for dental practitioners. Digital dental impressions achieve the same end goal as traditional types of dental impressions, just without the gag-inducing goop and uncomfortable trays. 

By utilizing digital dental technology, we can generate 3D images of a patient’s teeth and gums using a handheld wand known as an intraoral scanner. Once this simple process is complete, the images are sent to the dental lab immediately, where the tooth restoration tools can start being made.

Compared to traditional impressions, digital impressions are a lot less invasive. They also take less time to administer—typically just one to two minutes in total. 

The Digital Dental Impression Process

Using the intraoral scanner, dentists can scan around each tooth using the intraoral scanner. The digital software then stitches the images together to create an accurate impression model of the patient’s mouth. 

That said, the digital impression process is significantly more streamlined than the traditional method. In turn, it boasts many benefits, including:

  • Faster impression appointments – Since the digital scanning process is so fast, it can speed up your patients’ appointment times and open up your schedule to take on more business.
  • Quicker restoration turnaround times – Digital impression images get sent to the dental lab electronically. As a result, you don’t have to go through the hassle of shipping physical impressions in the mail and paying the associated shipping costs. Your patients can also enjoy a reduced turnaround time in receiving their restorations.
  • Enhanced patient experience – No one enjoys gagging on goop during traditional impressions. As a no-gag alternative to dental impressions, digital impressions are much more comfortable for patients. What’s more, many patients are impressed by the technology.
  • Improved accuracy Intraoral scanners capture every small intricacy of the teeth, leading to detailed 3D models. Due to their high level of accuracy, digital impressions lead to better restoration results and significantly fewer redos than traditional impressions.
  • Simplified expenses – When you take digital impressions, you no longer need to constantly restock your office with costly dental trays, putty materials, and mixing bowls. 

Partner With Dandy and Enjoy the Benefits of Digital Impressions

While traditional methods of creating dental impressions involve a putty-like substance that’s used to make a mold of a patient’s mouth, digital impressions use advanced technology to create a digital scan of the teeth, gums, and bite. 

Digital impression technology eliminates the need for unpleasant molds, provides a highly accurate rendering of a patient’s mouth, and can improve the patient’s experience. 

If you’re ready to enhance your dental practice with digital impressions, look no further than Dandy.

As a leading digital dental lab, we help dental practitioners modernize their offices. As a dental professional, when you partner with us, you can receive a free intraoral scanner and quickly adopt this time-efficient and cost-effective process. On average, our practitioners save $30K and see an 89% reduction in impression mistakes by going digital.

Are you ready to get started? Go digital with Dandy today. 


Journal of the History of Dentistry. The Historical Evolution of Dental Impression Materials.

ScienceDirect. A clinical study comparing digital scanning and conventional impression making for implant-supported prostheses: A crossover clinical trial.

ScienceDirect. Impression Material.

Cleveland Clinic. Dental Impressions.