Blue dental impressions of teeth and gums

Step-by-Step Guide to Taking Dental Impressions

Learn the procedures, steps, risks, and requirements for taking dental impressions.

Blue dental impressions of teeth and gums

Dental impressions are a unique tool in the field of dentistry. They are often used to take imprints of your teeth, gums, and other oral structures. Without dental impressions, you wouldn’t be able to protect your teeth or improve your smile. They can also help prevent other health-related issues.

The procedure is simple and requires dental putty or digital, handheld wands. Mastering this skill is important for employment in most dental practices. Therefore, you must follow the proper steps to take quality dental impressions and ensure patient health.

This article focuses on the art and science of taking dental impressions, one of the essential dental procedures for medical staff.

(See our list of the most common Dental Assisting duties and responsibilities)

Dental Impressions Definition

What Does it Mean to Take Dental Impressions?

Think of dental impressions as a “fingerprint” of your mouth. Essentially, they are a negative imprint of both the hard and soft tissues in your mouth. Dental professionals use these impressions to create a positive reproduction (like a nightguard). First, a special putty is placed in an impression tray, and then the dental professional will fit the tray into your mouth and press it firmly over your teeth and gums. They let the impression harden for a few minutes before removing it.

What is the Purpose of Taking Dental Impressions?

Dental impressions can be used for several restorations and appliances, such as:

  • Nightguards
  • Sports mouth guards
  • Retainers
  • Dental crowns, bridges, or implants
  • Dentures
  • Porcelain veneers
  • Clear aligners
  • Teeth whitening trays
  • Sleep apnea appliances

How Long Does it Take to Take Dental Impressions?

Although it depends on the type of dental impression, this procedure usually takes about 15 minutes or less to complete. However, dental impressions with traditional putty can set in about three to five minutes. Digital impressions can also be completed in three to five minutes.

Who Can Take Dental Impressions?

A Dental Assistant or dental hygienist usually takes the impressions. Occasionally, a dentist may take them, but it’s more efficient for other dental team members to perform this task.

The frequency of Dental Assistants taking dental impressions depends on their location, specialization, and experience level. However, most DAs perform tasks related to dental impressions. The dentist will then use the impressions for various dental restorations and appliances.

(Go here to learn how to become a Dental Assistant)

Medical workers in a conference room

Training Requirements for Dental Impressions

The requirements for taking dental impressions vary and depend on your location and profession. For instance, Dental Assistants usually need to graduate from an accredited program and pass an exam. However, some may learn through on-the-job training.

Dental Assistant programs typically take about one year to complete. They include both clinical and classroom instruction. The Commission on Dental Accreditation (CODA) accredits over 250 Dental Assisting programs in the United States. These programs provide knowledge and practical experience.

Dental Impressions Procedure

Like any other skill, taking dental impressions requires time and practice to get right. So, the first step is to understand proper dental-impression procedures.

Dental Impressions Prep

It’s beneficial to have your supplies ready, understand state law, and check your employer’s policy and procedures.

Steps for Taking Dental Impressions

Here are the general guidelines you should follow when using the primary methods for dental impressions:

Dental Putty

  1. Distribute dental putty into a plastic or metal tray.
  2. Place the tray over the patient’s teeth and hold it there.
  3. Wait a few minutes for the putty to set and harden.
  4. Carefully remove the tray (and putty) from the patient’s mouth.
  5. Send the impression to a dental laboratory.
  6. Once the lab sends the final product to the dental office, schedule a follow-up appointment.

Digital Impressions

  1. Turn on a digital handheld wand to capture photos of the patient’s teeth and gums.
  2. Pass the wand over the patient’s teeth. Let them know that images of their mouth will populate on the computer screen in front of them.
  3. Wait as the computer software connects the images and creates a 3D model of your patient’s dental arches.
  4. Electronically send the photo files to a dental laboratory.
  5. Once the lab sends the final product to the dental office, schedule a follow-up appointment.


Once you have taken the patient’s dental impressions, they are sent to a laboratory and developed by trained technicians. This process may take anywhere from one to several weeks. Sometimes, the dentist may put a temporary restoration in place if the patient is missing a front tooth.

Necessary Equipment for Taking Dental Impressions

The supplies for dental impressions can include items like the following:

  • Alginate Mixers
  • Impression Trays
  • Digital Impression Systems
  • Automatic Mixers
  • Hand Dispense Guns
  • Mixing Tips

Potential Risks or Complications of Taking Dental Impressions

While there aren’t any significant risks of taking dental impressions, some complications may arise. For instance, if a patient has loose teeth, the putty could pull them out. However, this is rare, and the dentist would find a solution. Some patients may also find that the procedure triggers their gag reflex.

The word tips in wooden letter blocks

Pro Tips for Mastering the Art of Taking Dental Impressions

Tips for taking dental impressions include practicing as much as possible, knowing when to distract patients, and picking the right tray size. Here are other pro tips that may assist you in the future:

  • Ensure that the margins are clear –To take an accurate impression, you need to ensure blood or saliva isn’t contaminating the margins. Always consult with the dentist if you’re having any issues.
  • Test the tray size before adding putty Because trays come in several sizes, ask your patient to place them in their mouth. It’s much more likely that you’ll take an accurate impression if you know their tray size in advance. Plus, this will give your patient a practice round and put them at ease.
  • Use less material for patients who gag Most of the time, extra material is what triggers the gag reflex. If you have a patient more susceptible to gagging, use the least amount of putty possible. You can also ask the patient to sit straight, focus on breathing through their nose, or lift one leg during the impression. All these techniques serve to distract and suppress the gag reflex.
  • Keep an eye on the packaging Damaged impressions can result from expired materials, improper mixing, etc. To avoid this, always read the instructions that come with dental putty. You should also keep track of the expiration dates.
  • Distract anxious patients  A simple yet effective technique to distract patients from discomfort is talking to them during the procedure. You can also remind them to breathe through their nose or give them updates about the time remaining before the impression sets. Some dental practices also play TV or music for their patients.
  • Practice to get your timing right Practice makes perfect. As you train, remember to follow the material instructions whenever you make an impression. Use a timer to manage both your mixing and set times. Minimize the time your patient must sit in the chair to produce accurate impressions.

Why Should Dental Assistants Learn How to Take Dental Impressions?

Dental impressions are used for appliances like nightguards, retainers, porcelain veneers, sports mouth guards, dental crowns, bridges, implants, and more. Although taking dental impressions may sound simple, it’s an important procedure vital to oral health.

While dental impressions aren’t always a job requirement, it is a task that Dental Assistants commonly perform. It’s also a valuable skill that could lead to more opportunities. Therefore, it would be advantageous for DAs or aspiring Dental Assistants to pursue training in this area. Once experienced, a DA would likely become more helpful to their employer and earn better career prospects.

Medical Office Assistant with clipboard

Start Your Career in Dental Assisting

Taking dental impressions is a crucial skill aspiring Dental Assistants should consider learning for their careers. It’s also an essential practice for the prevention of various dental issues.

Dental impressions are molds of your teeth and gums. They can be used for various treatments or procedures, such as dental restorations, trays, whitening, and retainers, to name a few. Not only can they help maintain your oral health, but they can also instill confidence by helping you achieve a beautiful smile.

If you’re inspired and want to pursue a career in medicine, Unitek College offers various healthcare programs, such as our Dental Assisting program.

Contact us today to learn more about our programs and tuition assistance options. Take the first step toward a rewarding future in healthcare!