What are Impressions for Braces?

The first step when a patient begins an orthodontic treatment is getting impressions for braces, and later retainers. Orthodontic impressions are taken using alginate, a substance pressed into the patient’s mouth. Thus, the orthodontist gets a mold of the teeth and gums. In this article, we will examine what are impressions for braces, what the process entails and why this process is necessary in order to apply braces that work.

Why do you have to get molds for braces?

An orthodontic impression serves the purpose of creating a visible mold that dentists and orthodontists can reference. They use it to examine the intricate shape of the gums and the teeth, so that braces will perfectly fit your mouth perfectly. Without this, braces may be improperly sized or shaped.

What Is The Process of Taking Orthodontic Impressions?

Many people ask how long do impressions take, but they do not need to worry. Each impression takes less than 1 minute, but orthodontists might need to take several impressions until they get a good one. Its better to think of something outside of the impression while getting the upper one, as it only takes a minute or so to harden. After that it can be removed from the mouth. Here are the steps of the dental impressions procedure.

  1. A dental tray that is in a sort of U shape, much like your jaws are, is filled with alginate. People ask what is alginate impression material made of? Alginate is a powder that is gathered from sea weed or kelp, which is typically found in the cold waters of locations such as Scotland, Norway and California.
  1. Once this powder is mixed up with the appropriate amount of water, it turns into a consistency similar to cake batter. The alginate is then put onto the dental tray and placed inside of the patient’s mouth.
  1. The lower impression is often done first as it tends to be a simpler experience. After the lower impression is done, then it is time for the upper impression.
  1. After a few seconds, once the alginate hardens, it will contain the imprint of your teeth and gums.
  1. The tray will be removed from the mouth and plaster will be poured into the imprints in order to create a dimensional view of the inside of the patient’s mouth. From there, dental professionals can use the new mold to examine the teeth or, in this case, to create braces that fit.

Tips for Getting Through the Impression Process

This portion will address some of the things that tend to make patients anxious about getting dental impressions.

Typically, with the top impression, patients will oftentimes feel uncomfortable with the feelings that having the impression against the roof of their mouths induce. Uncomfortable side effects of a getting a dental impression include:

  • a heightened gag reflex;
  • a feeling as if the alginate is going down the patients throat;

No matter how much it may feel as if the alginate is going down your throat, it definitely is not. In order to get a solid impression, the alginate has to get to the back portions of your mouth, making it feel as if it is going down your throat.

A gag reflex is a bodily response to something touching the soft palate in the mouth. A sensitive gag reflex can make getting an impression a bit more uncomfortable than it needs to be, but there are special measures that can be taken to help alleviate that feeling, like a topical anesthetic.

Using a substance called Cetacaine, dental professionals will spray the back of the patient’s mouth. It does not taste pleasant, but after a few minutes it will numb the palate and stop the reflex.

Here are a few others ways to cope with an overactive gag reflex:

  • Breathe through your nose. If you focus on breathing through your nose even with your mouth open, it will be easier to endure the minute or so it takes to get a good impression. Take a decongestant beforehand or try strips for snoring to help open your airways.
  • Drooling. Don’t be afraid of drooling, no matter how you fear you may look. When you let yourself drool instead of trying to swallow your saliva, it will help with the gag reflex while your mouth is full of alginate.
  • Distract yourself. Bring a ball to squeeze, mentally practice a foreign language, come up with a grocery list or anything that will help you turn your attention away from your mouth.

Some Last Minute Dos and Don’ts when Getting Impressions for Braces, Retainers, or Dentures


  • Let the professional know if you have an overactive gag reflex.
  • Breathe through your nose instead of your mouth.
  • Attempt to relax yourself during the impression process.


  • Swallow a lot. Drool instead if you have to to prevent gagging.
  • Let your nerves get the best of you. Impressions are a necessary part of getting braces. Focus on how good you will feel about your teeth when it’s all said and done.
  • Attempt to remove the tray. It will make a mess, and the impression will be damaged. You will have to go through the process again.


For someone who is about to get a dental impressions for braces, retainers, or other purposes, there may be many questions surrounding the process. A dental impression is just a powdery mix of kelp and water pressed into the top and bottom of the mouth. Many people find that getting the top impression is uncomfortable, either due to anxiety or due to their gag reflex. That’s what worries people the most, but there are ways to get through it. Since a dental impression is absolutely necessary for braces, it’s important that the patient takes the time to relax before and during the process in the ways listed above.

What do you think? Was your dental impression pleasant, or did your gag reflex get the better of you? What are your thoughts on the impression process in general? Are there any questions about dental impressions for braces that you want to ask before your appointment? Sound off in the comments section!

1 Comment

  • Oh, I used to hate this! I remember going through this entire process seemed like a nightmare. (As a child, I had to wear braces so an impression was more than necessary). Now I realise it’s a basic procedure that can’t be avoided. It is true that then I wasn’t aware of all the do’s and don’ts and it might have been easier for me to overcome the moment, but that is how it went.
    Great article, I hope people will read it and will not go through the same experience as I did!

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