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What Is An Alginate Impression?

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Medically Reviewed By Colgate Global Scientific Communications

Did you know that your teeth are unique? Many dental treatments and devices are specially designed to fit into the mouth naturally. Dental impressions help dentists create custom oral devices that will sit comfortably on teeth surfaces. To get these impressions, they use a material known as alginate. Learn more about what alginate is and how dentists use it.

What Is Alginate Made Of?

Alginate is a powder material that contains sodium alginate, calcium sulfate, trisodium phosphate, diatomaceous earth, zinc oxide, and potassium titanium fluoride. When mixed with water, it makes a smooth gel-like consistency that sets firmly enough to mold. Alginate is a hypoallergenic (unlikely to cause an allergic reaction) material that dental professionals use to take accurate teeth impressions for various oral devices and treatments.

Alginate Impression Uses

Dental impressions are used for any device that has to fit over or replace any of your teeth, such as:

  • Crowns
  • Bridges
  • Veneers
  • Braces (and other orthodontic appliances)
  • Custom whitening trays

Because alginate impression material reacts favorably to water, it produces accurate dental impressions even in the presence of saliva. An accurate impression of your teeth and gums will help your dentist recreate a model of your dental arch. This will then be used to customize the dental device.

Making an Alginate Impression

Making dental impressions happens during your initial consultations. Your dentist will start by cleaning the teeth to remove any debris and allow the mouth to partially dry. Once this is done, they will mix the alginate powder with water to create a smooth, spreadable consistency. The mixture is then spooned onto a u-shaped impression tray that will fit onto the arch of your teeth. The tray will be firmly placed on the upper or lower teeth (depending on where the dental work is being done) for a couple of minutes. Let your dentist know if you experience a gag reflex. They may administer nitrous oxide, laughing gas, to stop the reflex and make you feel relaxed.

Getting impressions of your teeth is an important part of restorative and orthodontic treatments. Precise impressions help dentists make custom fitting appliances that won't cause irritation or discomfort. If you are worried about an active gag reflex, talk to your dentist. They are there to help you feel comfortable.

Oral Care Center articles are reviewed by an oral health medical professional. This information is for educational purposes only. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always seek the advice of your dentist, physician or other qualified healthcare provider. 

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