What is an Alginate Impression?

So, what are dental impressions and why are they necessary? We’ll start with the basics of traditional “impression taking” – in order to provide you with an appreciation of how Dr. Scott delivers personalized, innovative orthodontic care, emphasizing patient comfort and convenience.

In order to straighten teeth, an Orthodontist needs to analyse the structure of the patient’s mouth, tooth position, and underlying bone and support tissue. Besides taking a panoramic X-RAY of the mouth, one of the first steps is called “taking an impression”. Most young patients have never experienced having an impression taken and it can make them a little nervous.

So, let’s begin with how traditional impressions are taken – what you will experience – and successfully getting through the process. First of all, impressions are fairly easy to take and are necessary before braces are applied, after braces are removed, and in order for your retainer appliance to be created. Depending on the specific treatment plan, impressions may also been needed during treatment too.

Making a GOOD impression – An orthodontic impression is taken with a tray that fits over your teeth. This tray is then filled with a soft putty like material called alginate. Alginate is a powder that is mixed with water to the consistency of cake batter. The alginate is placed into the tray and then the tray is placed in the patient’s mouth and pressed into your upper and lower gums and teeth. Your dental technician will hold the impression in place while the material begins to cure or set up.

 What does it feel like? The lower impression is typically done first, followed by the upper. Because the impression has to get to the back of your mouth to get the back teeth, some patients think the alginate is going to slide down their throat. Don’t worry – it won’t. Orthodontic assistants take many impressions every day. Once the alginate sets, the tray can be removed and the imprints of your gum and teeth are now “impressed” into the alginate which then hardens. The orthodontist can then pour stone or plaster into the imprints to create a mold of your teeth to examine them and fabricate your braces or appliance.

Hyper Gag Reflex Some patients have a hyper “Gag Reflex” known as the pharyngeal reflex to things touching the soft palate in their throat. For those who do and even for those that don’t, continue to read on in this article to see the new innovative way Dr. Scott is taking impressions.

A topical anesthetic called Cetacaine, can be sprayed in the back of the mouth to numb the throat and relieve this tendency. While the impression is being taken, try to stay calm and breathe though your nose, not your mouth. Don’t swallow as this tends to cause gagging.


 Tips for taking an impression – There are some tips you can use to make the impression taking less troublesome. Remember, impressions are the first step to getting to your beautiful smile.


First, let the technician if you think you have a hyper gag reflex.

While taking the impression, don’t swallow a lot. You can drool on your napkin. Swallowing is more likely to cause gagging.

Try to breath through your nose and not through your mouth.

Try to remain relaxed and calm. The tray has to be timed. Taken out too early is not only messy, but it will ruin the impression and you’ll have to start all over again.

Now that you see how the typical dental impression is made.

See how Doctor Scott uses advanced technology to improve the process of taking an impression