MRI and Braces: What You Should Know Before You Go

If you’ve ever had to take an MRI, you’re probably aware that you can’t have any metal on you while in there. No bra wires, no belts, no earrings. But can you get an MRI if you have braces? It’s not like you can take them off at a moment’s notice.

I know firsthand how nerve-wracking this investigation can be, and the added stress of wearing braces shouldn’t weigh on you. Hopefully, this article will give you all the information you need.

MRI with Braces: What You Should Know

First things first, can you get an MRI if you have braces? The answer is: it depends. It’s safe to get an MRI with braces, as the brackets and wires themselves won’t be damaged. Your teeth won’t be pulled and you’ll generally be safe.

However, any metals in your mouth will cause image distortions in the head and neck area. So, if you need a head or neck MRI, your technician will most likely ask that you have your braces removed before this medical procedure.

Let’s dive deeper into how MRIs work and how braces can affect these sensitive machines.

An MRI works by using a potent magnetic field and radio waves to generate images of the body’s internal structures. The body’s water molecules respond to this magnetic field. The MRI machine then reads these responses to produce detailed images.

MRI (Magnetic Resonance Imaging) is unique among medical imaging tools. Unlike CT scans and regular X-rays, it doesn’t use radiation. This makes it safer, especially for kids or those getting many scans. Also, MRIs are great at showing differences in soft tissues, capturing detailed images of organs and muscles.

Do braces get pulled inside the MRI?

If you have metal braces, you might be wondering whether it’s safe to have an MRI. The good news is that braces are usually made of 316 stainless steel, a non-magnetic alloy that won’t be affected by the MRI’s magnetic fields. So, it’s generally safe for you to have an MRI even if you have braces.

Steel is often magnetic because it’s based on iron. But 316 steel is different. It’s an “austenitic” stainless steel, which means it has certain elements added, like nickel. These additions change the steel’s inner makeup or crystal structure.

Because of this altered structure, 316 steel doesn’t behave like a magnet. You don’t have to worry about your braces being pulled inside the MRI machine.

The second concern of having braces inside the MRI machine is heat. There’s a slight risk that your braces may heat up slightly, but this is often barely noticeable. This occurs due to tiny electric currents flowing through the metal, generating heat from the metal’s resistance.

Some braces are made of titanium, which is entirely non-magnetic and safe for MRI use. Still, these types of braces are less frequently used by orthodontists, and the wires or ligatures may also contain steel.

How does the MRI image get distorted because of braces?

If you have braces and undergo an MRI, the metal in the braces can interfere with the machine’s magnetic field. This leads to “artifacts” or distortions in the resulting images.

One frequent distortion is signal loss, appearing as dark regions on the MRI result. This occurs because the metal in braces disrupts the MRI signal.

These distortions can hide the actual structures underneath, making it impossible for doctors to analyze the images correctly. Artifacts defeat the purpose of having an MRI in the first place.

Preparing for an MRI with Metal Braces and Other Orthodontic Appliances

If you or a friend have metal braces and need an MRI soon, it’s really important to get ready in the right way. Some situations even require that you get your braces removed, so it’s best to be prepared.

Ultimately, your immediate health matters more than long-term orthodontic treatment.

Preparing for the MRI:

For those with metal braces, it’s crucial to inform the MRI technician and radiologist about the braces before the scan. This way, they can decide on the best approach to minimize artifacts or distortions.

Head and Neck MRI with braces:

The area of focus matters. When an MRI targets the head and neck region, the presence of metal braces can be particularly problematic. The metal can cause significant distortions in the images, making them challenging to interpret. Regrettably, in many cases, I’ve had to recommend removing the braces temporarily to get clear MRI results.

Ceramic Braces and MRI:

Ceramic braces themselves are not magnetic and won’t cause significant disruptions in an MRI. However, the wires used in conjunction with ceramic braces are often made of metal and can interfere. So while the ceramic brackets can stay on, the wires often need to be removed before the scan. This is not a problem for your orthodontist, and it only requires a quick visit to the office.

Permanent Retainers and MRI:

Much like braces, permanent retainers can interfere with MRI results, especially if the scan targets the head or neck. It’s best to discuss with your orthodontist and radiologist if removal is necessary. Permanent retainers take up less space than full braces, so the distortion area should be smaller, but still affect the maxilla and mandible area.

Palate Expanders and MRI:

If you or your child has a palate expander and needs an MRI, you may be wondering if it’s safe. Palate expanders can be even more problematic than braces when inside the MRI machine because they contain much more metal.

Palate expanders are large and pose a greater risk of heating. This is something your radiologist will need to handle. You can still have an MRI below the neck and your palate expander won’t affect the final images.

Aside from safety, will a palate expander affect MRI results?

You can still have an MRI below the neck and your palate expander won’t affect the final images. However, if your child needs a head and neck MRI, I recommend taking the palate expander off. Since it’s so bulky, the artifacts it causes will completely cover part of the facial structures.

Unfortunately, taking the palate expander off before the treatment is complete will undo months of hard work. But MRIs are often urgent, so there’s no way around this. Hopefully, you won’t need to go through this.

Safest Braces for MRI:

If you’re worried about future MRI scans, some orthodontic options are more MRI-friendly. Clear aligners, like Invisalign, are virtually invisible and made out of plastic, so they don’t interfere with MRI scans. Plus, they’re removable, so even if they did have metal, it wouldn’t be an issue.

Ceramic braces, as mentioned earlier, are mostly safe except for the wires. The wires are mostly nickel and titanium. Both are non-magnetic, but may still cause distortions.

Titanium brackets are also a safer choice for MRIs. Since titanium isn’t as magnetic as some other metals, there’s less risk of it causing problems during the scan.

Insurance Coverage:

If braces have to be temporarily removed and then replaced due to an MRI, patients often wonder about insurance coverage. Coverage varies among insurance providers and plans.

It’s a good idea to talk to your insurance provider before the MRI. This way, you’ll know if there are any costs you’ll need to cover yourself. There will likely be out-of-pocket expenses for this situation, unfortunately.

How Your Orthodontist Can Help With Your MRI

I’ve had my fair share of patients who needed a head and neck MRI, especially a brain MRI. I’ve noticed that some technicians were adamant about removing braces, while others mentioned it was fine to have them on and only needed a permission note from my office.

So, why this difference in opinion? Ultimately, it all depends on the area that needs to be analyzed. Braces won’t cause artifacts on the outer parts of the brain or the lower sections of the neck – but why risk it? Discovering a potentially life-threatening condition is more urgent and important than the temporary inconvenience of taking braces off.

Here is how your orthodontist will help:

  • Before the MRI appointment, your orthodontist will have a conversation with the MRI technician to determine if it’s truly essential for braces to come off. Taking braces off is complicated, not to mention inconvenient, so it’s best to avoid it if possible.
  • During your braces removal visit, your orthodontist will take your braces off, clean and polish your teeth, and take impressions for Essix retainers. You will need to wear your retainers until the braces are put back on so you don’t lose progress.
  • After your MRI, if you’re cleared and in good health, you can resume orthodontic treatment. You can choose between metal or clear braces, or even clear aligners if you’re a candidate.
  • Since your orthodontist will provide you with a new set of braces, you can expect additional costs that may or may not be covered by your insurance.

MRI alternatives for patients with dental work and braces

If you have permanent dental work that contains metal (crowns, bridges, implants, metal fillings), or if you just don’t want to take your braces off, you may be wondering if there’s a better alternative.

Medical imaging options may include CT scans, but it’s not always appropriate or possible to opt for CT scans instead of MRIs.

Let’s assume you need an MRI of your brain, but you want to opt for a CT scan instead. Both CT scans and MRIs are imaging tools used to visualize the brain, but they serve different purposes and have distinct advantages.

A CT (Computed Tomography) scan:

  • Uses X-rays to produce detailed cross-sectional images.
  • Is excellent for visualizing bone, bleeding, tumors, and acute traumatic injuries.
  • Is faster than an MRI, which can be crucial in emergency situations.
  • Involves ionizing radiation.

An MRI (Magnetic Resonance Imaging):

  • Uses magnetic fields and radio waves, without ionizing radiation.
  • Provides more detailed images of soft tissues, making it superior for visualizing brain structures, ligaments, and the spinal cord.
  • Is often preferred for neurological diseases, inflammation, and detailed evaluations.

In summary, both CT scans and MRIs can visualize the brain, but the choice depends on the specific clinical question and the level of detail required.

Final Thoughts

Hopefully, I’ve eased your mind about this MRI and braces situation. An MRI machine can be claustrophobic and unpleasant, but you shouldn’t feel any symptoms in your teeth and braces while inside.

If you are among the unfortunate patients who need to take their braces off for the procedure, I sympathize. Most of the time it was nothing, and my patients resumed their treatment after just a few weeks. So good luck, and remember that your orthodontist is rooting for you!

Whether you’re new to braces or a braces veteran, taking care of your teeth and gums during orthodontic treatment is crucial. That’s why I’ve put together a list of orthodontist-recommended tools that will make caring for your braces a breeze:

  • An awesome mid-range electric toothbrush. Rotating electric brushes are much more effective, in my opinion, than sonic ones. You can keep your teeth white by using whitening replacement heads.
  • A countertop water flosser to blast out food debris between teeth. I know handheld models are tempting, but you’ll need a lot of water. You can almost replace flossing with this and your gums will be healthier.
  • Braces accessories to get into all the nooks and crannies: straight or angled interdental brushes, floss threaders, orthodontic wax or silicone. For pain management, have gel ice packs handy, Orajel, and Mouth Magic (a cool soothing solution for mouth sores).
  • For clear aligner patients, a tool like PUL helps both remove and seat your aligner or retainer. Don’t forget to use a cleaning product like crystals to keep your trays fresh and hygienic.

Looking for advice, a second opinion & support on your braces journey? Join the Facebook group!

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