My patients often wonder how the metal in their braces reacts during a medical imaging procedure. This may include MRIs (most worrisome for my patients), CT scans, and X-rays.
While MRIs use magnetic fields to collect images of your insides, CT scans and X-rays rely on radiation passing through the body. This means that your braces (and teeth) won’t be affected at all.
So, it’s safe to say that you can have a CT scan and/or X-ray with braces on. Still, there are some things you should know about how braces show up on images, and how that can be an issue for some medical investigations.
The Basics of CT Scans
A CT scan, often simply called a “CT,” stands for Computed Tomography. Think of it as a sophisticated version of an X-ray. While an X-ray gives us a flat, two-dimensional picture, a CT scan provides a more detailed, 3D view of the inside of our body.
So, how does it work? During a CT scan, you usually lie on a comfortable table that slides into a machine, almost like a short tunnel. This machine takes several X-ray pictures from various angles while you remain still.
Then, with the help of computers, these pictures are combined to produce a comprehensive and detailed image. These images allow doctors to see things like organs, blood vessels, and bones in greater detail than traditional X-rays.
Can You Get a CT Scan with Braces?
Now, if you’re wearing metal braces, you might wonder how they fit into this picture. The metals in braces can sometimes show up on the CT images, potentially looking like bright spots or distortions. This doesn’t mean your scan won’t work, but it’s something radiologists—the experts who read these images—should be aware of.
Before your scan, it’s important to let the technicians and radiologists know that you have braces. While the metal in braces usually doesn’t interfere with the majority of CT scans, especially those focusing on areas away from the head, it’s always better to give a heads-up.
That way the technicians can account for any distortions or make necessary adjustments during the scan. One such method is using a different imaging angle or altering the CT scan settings to minimize the impact of the braces on the image quality.
In short, you can absolutely have a CT scan with braces on. In most cases, the process is straightforward, and there’s no extra preparation needed just because you wear traditional braces. If you’re having a CT scan of areas away from the mouth and sinuses, you don’t need to worry about your braces at all.
Dental CT scans are particularly important during orthodontic treatment for some patients. Metal braces do cause some distortion and interference in the teeth area, but we order CT scans to see the bone and roots, so they still provide valuable information.
The Basics of X-rays
X-rays are a familiar term for most of us, often associated with doctors looking at bones. Essentially, an X-ray is a type of imaging technique that captures pictures of the inside of our bodies.
While X-Rays are primarily known for showcasing bones, they’re also used for viewing teeth, soft tissues like the lungs, and other internal structures. The process involves passing a controlled amount of X-ray radiation through the body, capturing an image of the inside based on how these rays are absorbed by different tissues.
Dense materials, like bone, absorb more X-rays and appear white on the image, while softer tissues absorb fewer and appear darker. Air and liquid are the least dense and show as completely black.
Metal shows up prominently on an X-ray because it’s a dense material that absorbs a lot of the X-ray radiation. When X-rays encounter metal, they can’t pass through as easily as they can with softer tissues. As a result, the metal appears bright or white on the X-ray image, obscuring anything that sits underneath.
There are several types of X-rays you might come accross, especially at a dentist’s office. For example:
- Panoramic X-rays give a broad view of the entire mouth.
- Bitewing X-rays focus on specific sets of teeth to check for cavities.
- Cephalometric X-rays capture a side view of the face, assisting orthodontists in planning treatments.
Getting an X-ray while Wearing Braces
You can, and most likely will, get multiple X-Rays with braces on. Your orthodontist should take panoramic and cephalometric X-rays at the start of orthodontic treatment. Then, after each phase of treatment, your orthodontist will order X-rays to check if your roots sit in the correct position.
The metal braces and metal wires do show up on radiographs, but generally don’t cause significant distortion around them. Rather, they appear as small, bright white squares with a wire passing through them. Here’s an example:
So, what about X-rays and ceramic braces? Ceramic brackets aren’t as visible as metal ones on an X-ray, but they still show. Since the braces wire is metallic, it will appear as a bright white line running through the teeth.
Your dentist and orthodontist have a keen eye, honed by years of training and experience. When they look at an X-ray of someone with braces, they’re equipped to interpret what’s behind those metal brackets and wires.
Even if you develop a cavity, which unfortunately does happen, your dentist will be able to tell, by examining your teeth and looking at the X-Ray. In some situations, braces can block the view, hiding cavities underneath. For those situations, we can take individual small X-Rays from different angles to get a better picture of the damage.
You don’t have to do anything special when going in for an X-Ray with braces on. For head and neck X-Rays, you’ll receive a lead apron to reduce the amount of radiation on other parts of the body.
If you’re getting an X-Ray of bones, lungs, or other parts of the body away from your head, your braces shouldn’t even register. Still, it’s good to mention to your technician that you have them on.
You can safely get CT scans and X-rays with braces on, with no preparation from your end. And you most likely will. X-rays and CT scans are fantastic tools that help your orthodontist monitor your progress and make sure your teeth, roots, and bones are in good health.
Also, don’t worry about getting too many X-rays during your orthodontic treatment. Modern imaging is digital, which means you’ll only get minimal doses of radiation each time.