The 3 Types of Dental Impressions

dentists discussing

Greeting new patients at your dental practice starts with the basics: name, insurance, dental history—and an intimate look inside their mouth. Most dental professionals rely on different types dental impressions to do, as these aim to create an accurate model of their teeth, gums, and bite. 

There are three general conventional types of dental impressions you may take, each with its own purpose, preferred materials, and procedural standards. But with the emergence of digital impression technologies, the process of taking them has gotten a whole lot easier. 

Whether you need to diagnose bite misalignments or fit a pro athlete for a mouth guard, impressions are elemental to the field of cosmetic dentistry. And as more and more dental practices go hybrid, digital impression tools promise to make taking each type an even simpler procedure.

#1 Preliminary Impressions

Preliminary impressions are typically taken during a patient’s first visit.

  • Primary purpose – Preliminary impressions are used to gain a visual understanding of the patient’s teeth, document their dental health, and determine an appropriate dental treatment plan. They’re also the first step in the process of creating oral prosthetics, which may include:
    • Retainers
    • Veneers
    • Dental implants
    • Dental crowns or bridges
    • Sports or night mouth guards
    • Dentures
  • Materials used – Typically, alginates or polyether vinyl silicone.
  • Procedure time – Patients usually spend around 15 minutes in the chair. However, preparing the materials needed to take preliminary impressions can be more time-intensive.

#2 Final Impressions

Final impressions are a type of dental impressions used by lab technicians to construct dental restoration devices. Ideally, they represent the most accurate, precise impression of a patient’s mouth, teeth, and overall oral health.

  • Primary purpose – To provide a “map” of a patient’s mouth, which is essential for the manufacturing of well-fitting prosthetics like:
    • Crowns or bridges
    • Dentures
    • Retainers
  • Materials used – Chiefly elastomeric materials like alginate or polyvinyl siloxane.
  • Time of procedure – Approximately 15 minutes, unless the lab reports an error was made. If an error was made, the procedure must be repeated until an accurate impression is achieved.

#3 Bite Registration Impressions

Bite registration impressions were developed to show how a patient’s upper and lower teeth are positioned in relation to one another. They are a type of dental impressions specifically focused on improving teeth alignment.

  • Primary purpose – To assess the alignment of patients’ bites before, during, and/or after a treatment protocol has been carried out. They may also be used to help create:
    • Crowns
    • Mouth or night guards
    • Dentures
  • Materials used – Some practitioners use articulating paper to demonstrate bite alignment. Others take 3D impressions, sometimes with polymers like polysiloxane.
  • Time of procedure – Minutes, unless the impression needs to be repeated for accuracy.

What Are Digital Dental Impressions?

So, what are digital impressions? Before we dive into that, many working practitioners were taught to take these 3 types of dental impressions mentioned above the old-fashioned way: They’d place a putty-like material into a dental impression tray, insert it into the patient’s mouth, and hope they didn’t gag or move while they waited for the dental impression material to harden. If they did, they’d have to start the process all over again to ensure the impression’s consistency with the bite.

But traditional dental impressions are no longer the only option dentists have at their disposal, nor are they the most popular. Many dental practitioners are adopting digital impressions to their practice, which use intraoral scanners to comfortably create a 3D digital scan of your patient’s teeth, gums, and bite—while easing the process for patients and practitioners alike.

When it comes to digital impressions vs traditional impressions, digital impressions ease both patient experience and workflow by:

  • Promoting time-efficiency – Digital impressions can be completed much faster than traditional impressions—they don’t require technicians to pre-prepare materials, wait for impressions to cement, or relay with the labs to verify impressions were successful. And because molds are sent digitally, they likewise eliminate shipping times and expenses. All told, digital impressions can shave weeks off both patient care and fabrication.
  • Improving patient comfort – Digital dentistry offers a no-gag alternative to dental impressions taken traditionally. Many patients dread getting traditional dental impressions since they can frequently induce gagging, gum pinching, or general discomfort. 89% of polled patients prefer digital to conventional methods, arguably due to a reduced likelihood of gagging. Not only does this improve patient experience overall, but it makes them more inclined to keep up with their dental care appointments.
  • Enhancing impression accuracy – Conventional impressions are no match for digital ones when it comes to executing impressions with precision. Not only does their enhanced accuracy prevent your patients from having to come back to redo poorly-fitted dental restorations, but it can enhance your dental office’s efficiency and open you up to accept more clients.

Make A Glowing Impression in Care with Dandy

Increasingly, dental offices are following patient preferences and embracing digital impression techniques. Tools like Dandy’s intraoral scanner make introducing this technology seamless, matching the rhythms of your practice and rendering impressions with exacting precision.

It’s our mission to help dental practices modernize and hybridize. When you partner with our digital dental lab, we’ll send you a free intraoral scanner to start casting impeccable impressions immediately.

Whether you’re looking to save costs, simplify workflows, or spare your patients that “Ouch!” moment in the chair, contact us to go digital with Dandy today.


ScienceDirect. Impression Material.

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

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

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