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Digital Impressions: The Future of Dental Impressions

One of the main reasons why people can not stand going to the dentist is the inherent invasiveness that is dentistry. While dentists try their best to make their patients feel comfortable, this invasiveness is at its peak when a clinician takes a traditional impression. The alginate substance has a slimy, gross texture and the tray can feel suffocating when covering your back molars, triggering a gag reflex in many people. They are time consuming to work with and prone to human error. 

Tradtional vs digital Impressions. On the left side of the picture there is a dental professional inserting an alginate impression tray into a patients mouth. On the right side of the picture a dentist is using an intraoral scanner to take a digital impression of a patients mouth. The picture shows the traditional impression taking process and the digital impression taking process.

Introducing the intraoral scan! This new technology replaces the traditional impression and all of its pitfalls, with a simpler, quicker process that in turn provides for more accurate, detailed dental models at a lower cost and quicker workflows for dental technicians. In this blog post, we'll explore the differences between intraoral scanning and traditional impressions, their respective benefits and drawbacks, and the implications for both dental professionals and patients.

What are Traditional Dental Impressions?

Traditional dental impressions involve the use of materials such as alginate or polyvinyl siloxane (PVS) to create a physical mold of a patient's teeth and surrounding tissues. This process requires the patient to bite down on a tray filled with the impression material, which is then allowed to set before being removed from the mouth. The resulting mold is then used by dental technicians to fabricate restorations, such as crowns, bridges, or dentures.

Traditional impressions have been used for decades with success; However, they do have their limitations. Manually administering impressions brings forth the possibility of human error, which can be further amplified by improper impression-taking techniques. Some common errors in alginate impression taking are:

  • Poor tray selection

  • Inadequate Impression Material Mixing

  • Internal Bubbles

  • Rushing the Impression

  • Small tears in the impression material

  • Failing to keep the patient still

This graphic shows the imperfections of the traditional impression. The process takes a long time for dental professionals, very uncomfortable for patients, retake risk, uses many materials in filling impression trays and pouring up dental models. The image also includes a traditional alginate impression tray which has been impressed by a patient's teeth.

What is Intraoral Scanning?

Intraoral scanning represents a significant advancement in dental impression technology. Instead of using physical materials to create a mold, intraoral scanners utilize optical scanning technology to capture thousands of detailed 3D images of the patient's teeth and soft tissues. These images are then digitally pieced together to produce an extremely detailed and accurate digital model. This model can then be sent to a dental lab in a matter of seconds, where the lab is able to 3D print the model and manufacture an array of lab fabrications.

The intraoral scanning process is typically faster and more comfortable for patients compared to traditional impressions. Instead of biting down on a tray filled with impression material, patients simply have their mouths scanned using a handheld wand-like device. This not only reduces discomfort but also minimizes the risk of errors associated with traditional impression materials.

Benefits of Intraoral Scanning

There are several benefits to using intraoral scanning technology over traditional impressions:

1. Accuracy: Intraoral scanners can capture highly detailed 3D images of the oral cavity, resulting in more accurate impressions compared to traditional methods.

2. Efficiency: The scanning process is typically faster than taking traditional impressions, reducing chair time for both patients and dental professionals.

3. Patient Comfort: Intraoral scanning is generally more comfortable for patients, as it eliminates the need for bulky trays and impression materials that can cause gagging and discomfort.

4. Digital Workflow: Digital impressions can be easily shared with dental laboratories and other members of the treatment team, streamlining the fabrication process for dental restorations.

5. Improved Communication: Intraoral scanning allows for better communication between dental professionals and patients, as digital images can be easily viewed and manipulated to explain treatment options and expected outcomes.

The Benfits of Intraoral Scanning. Accuracy, Digital Workflow, Patient Comfort, Efficiency, Improved Communication. With a picture of a dentist taking a digital impression of a woman's mouth.

Do Patient's Actually Prefer Digital Impressions?

On March 10, 2023, a study was performed at a university in Romania, in which investigated the traditional impression and intraoral scanning processes. A group of 28 patients, 14 male and 14 female, aged 18-25, took part in the experiment. Each patient went through the traditional alginate impression taking process and the intraoral scanning process. The faculty recorded the amount of time each process took from start to finish and scanned the traditional impression trays of each patient to digitally compare the results of both impression taking techniques. The patients were then presented with surveys in which they were asked to rank various aspects of each process on a scale from 1-10. 

The study concluded that patients preferred the digital impression process much more than the traditional impression process, especially in regards to comfortability. The mean rank (1-10) of the comfortability and effectiveness of each process were as follows:


Traditional Impressions- 6.5/10

Digital Impressions- 9.018/10


The faculty concluded not only that intraoral scans can be used as an alternative to traditional impressions but also that digital scans are more comfortable and more likely to be preferred by patients. 

The Future of Dental Impressions

As technology continues to advance, the use of intraoral scanning is likely to become more widespread in the field of dentistry. Advances in scanning technology, software development, and affordability will further enhance the accuracy, efficiency, and accessibility of digital impressions.


Over a three year span, from 2019-2021, D&S Dental Laboratory, Inc., a Milwaukee dental lab, reported that dentists were sending them three times as many digital impressions for crown and bridge cases than previous years.


However, traditional impressions are unlikely to disappear entirely, as they still have a place in certain clinical scenarios and may be preferred by some dental professionals and patients. Ultimately, the choice between intraoral scanning and traditional impressions will depend on factors such as clinical needs, patient preferences, and the availability of technology and resources.


Intraoral scanning represents a significant advancement in the field of dental impressions, offering numerous benefits over traditional methods in terms of accuracy, efficiency, patient comfort, digital workflow, and improved communication. While intraoral scanning technology is not without its challenges, continued innovation and adoption are likely to drive its widespread use in dental practices around the world.

As dental professionals continue to explore the possibilities of digital dentistry, it is essential to remain informed about the latest advances in technology and to evaluate how these innovations can be integrated into clinical practice to improve patient care and outcomes. By embracing new technologies such as intraoral scanning, dental professionals can enhance their ability to provide high-quality, patient-centered care in an increasingly digital world.

Contact our team at Paul M. Sandvick, DDS & Associates if you have any digital impression questions or ask about digital impressions next time you are in the office!


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