Smile! Don’t stress.
When I had braces, back when the internet consisted of just AOL and chat rooms, answers didn’t come as easy as a quick search on your phone.
But here we are, so put your mind at ease.
Braces don’t set off metal detectors 99.9% of the time because of the specific calibration and testing that walkthrough metal detectors go through to manage everyday traffic flow.
What about the other 0.01%? Well, we’ll get there.
What Are Braces Made Of?
Braces are traditionally made of metal or alloys like stainless steel, titanium, or gold.
And while alternative options like ceramic, plastic, or synthetic sapphire sound metal detector-friendly, you can’t rule out the presence of some metallic elements.
Regardless of the material used for your braces, you won’t be singled out by a metal detector operator.
In the US alone, roughly four million people have braces at anytime.
And this large population is just one example of why the sensitivity of metal detectors is lowered by security personnel.
But to cover all the bases, I’ll walk you through the different types of orthodontic options and discuss how metal detectors react to them.
How Do Metal Detectors Work?
I won’t dig too deep into the science, but insight into how metal detectors work is critical in understanding if they can detect your braces.
Most of today’s walkthrough metal detectors use pulse induction technology.
In short, a magnetic field is generated by coil wires inside the metal detector that emit short bursts of electromagnetic pulses.
When a metallic object enters the field of pulsing currents, an echoing magnetic field is generated and sent back to the coils, triggering an alarm.
Still with me?
Each type of metal has a unique level of electrical conductivity. This means it’s capable of carrying an electrical current.
Some metals are more conductive than others. And the better conductor a metal is, the more likely a metal detector will pick it up.
Now, just because you have metal braces with conductive materials doesn’t mean they’ll set off a metal detector.
But we’ll get to that in a minute. I don’t want to overload you!
Types of Braces
There are a handful of different kinds of braces. Each has its own pros and cons.
I’m not a doctor by any profession, but the popular types of braces are well-known.
The types of braces your orthodontist will likely recommend are metal braces, clear aligners or invisible braces, ceramic braces, and lingual braces.
What’s important to understand is that these different materials can affect a metal detector in various ways.
I’m referring to their electrical conductivity.
Let’s start with the obvious.
Metal braces are the old reliable type most dentists prefer. They’re efficient, less costly, and have a long track record of success.
But you don’t care about that, do you? You’re more interested in avoiding that uncomfortable alarm demanding everyone’s attention.
As I implied before, the metals used in braces have varying degrees of electrical conductivity and, as such, can alter the magnetic field of a metal detector.
Although not every pair of braces uses the same elements.
What Metals Are Braces Made Of?
The most common types of metal braces are made of stainless steel and are known as the traditional metal braces often chosen by orthodontists.
However, other metals include gold, titanium, carbon, nickel, chrome, and even aluminum.
Stainless steel is generally not a good conductor of electricity, but it doesn’t mean a metal detector won’t go off.
I’m not trying to scare you. I stand by what I said.
Your braces won’t set off a metal detector.
But I hate speaking in absolutes unless I can prove it.
To put it all in perspective, I made this nifty little chart that orders how conductive each of the metals I mentioned is, including others found in archwires.
You might have guessed that there is no metal in clear aligners. If so, you’re right.
Clear aligners, most notably Invisalign, are made of flexible plastic that allows for a relaxed fit and easy removal, unlike other types of braces.
Because of their all plastic material, I can say with 100% certainty that you’ll never set off a metal detector.
Ceramics is a popular material in many industries, especially oral healthcare.
I’ve written an entire article on dental implants and the use of ceramics. Check it out if you have time. You’ll find a lot of your answers there as well.
The good news is that ceramic braces are made of aluminum oxide, also known as polycrystalline alumina.
Despite the mention of aluminum in the forming compound, these ceramic materials will not set off your metal detector.
However, ceramic braces still use a traditional archwire, the metal wire connecting each bracket.
Last but not least, there are lingual braces.
Lingual braces are made just like traditional stainless steel braces. Although sometimes titanium or a gold alloy is used.
The only difference is that lingual braces (brackets and wire) are attached to the back of the tooth for a more discreet look.
What Are Braces Wire Made Of?
Should you be concerned with archwire if you have ceramic braces?
Concerned? Probably not.
But recognizing that they are made of metal is prudent.
Usually, the archwire or braces wire is made of stainless steel or a titanium alloy with nickel or copper.
And as you may have noticed from the chart earlier, these metals do have an effect on magnetic fields.
But the wire is a relatively tiny piece of metal and too small for a metal detector to catch.
Will Braces Go Off in Airport Security?
You might wonder if everything I’ve already laid out is pointless regarding the TSA.
Surely the intense levels of threat detection for boarding a flight will quickly sniff out everyone with braces, a pacemaker, or wearing a pin, right?
Nope. That kind of metal detector sensitivity would cause chaotic amounts of delay.
The truth is, your braces won’t go off at airport security because the TSA doesn’t want to restrict the flow of traffic for harmless metal objects.
You already know about the electrical conductivity that metal detectors search for.
What you need to know about is the standard calibration and testing protocols the Department of Justice has implemented concerning metal detectors.
I touched on this earlier, and I won’t bore you with the details. But the primary goal of these standards is to detect metal objects that could pose a threat efficiently.
To meet that threat level, forms of metal weapons generally have to be larger than your braces.
That’s why TSA officials calibrate and test their metal detectors to ignore the presence of metals like buttons, zippers, and braces.
This is done by manually adjusting the sensitivity or raising the threshold of the magnetic field.
However, the culmination of enough small metal objects could meet the threshold of a metal detector’s sensor to cause an alarm.
For instance, the combined conductivity of a bracelet on your wrist, a lighter in your pocket, and a few decorative pins could be enough.
But if that were to happen, airport security would check your pockets, not your mouth.
Airports also use other scanning technology like millimeter wave scanners that search your body without the inconsistent results of magnetic fields.
Other secured locations implement the same kind of standards and testing.
Whether you’re talking about metal detectors in schools, courthouses, or even a concert, no one wants the alarm going off for a few coins in your pocket.
Metal Retainer After Braces: Should You Worry?
If you have yet to reach the oh-so-wonderful stage of your braces coming off, let me explain why your metal detector questions won’t be over.
A retainer is an orthodontic device you wear over your teeth after removing your braces.
They’re recommended to wear all day or at least at night, depending on the type of retainer.
The purpose of wearing a retainer after braces is to ensure they remain aligned and won’t shift out of place over time.
Invisalign offers a clear plastic retainer; if you’re wondering, it won’t contain any metal to interfere with a metal detector.
But the two traditional types of retainers contain some metal. And according to orthodontics doctor Robert Douglas, the metal in your retainers is not enough to set off a metal detector.
In fact, metal retainers consist of a single metal wire usually made with stainless steel or an alloy mixture of nickel, chromium, titanium, or copper.
No metal brackets are added to the conductivity grouping needed to trigger metal detector alarms.
FAQs About Braces and Metal Detectors
I’ve gotten many questions about smaller metal pieces, including how a metal detector responds to them.
Regarding braces, I compiled four queries that pop up a lot. So let’s talk about them.
Can Braces Rust?
The rigorous testing required by medical organizations like the FDA demands braces to be made with corrosion-resistant and biocompatible materials that eliminate the possibility of rusting.
That’s why metal alloys like titanium and stainless steel are used to make traditional metal braces.
If you’re convinced that your braces are showing signs of rust, then you’ve been duped. Most likely, your orthodontist was sold materials made of lesser quality.
What Are Clear Braces Made Of?
Clear braces are brackets made of ceramic or porcelain wrapped with an elastic rubber band to secure the archwire.
Don’t confuse clear braces with the popular Invisalign product and similar offshoots made with flexible plastic.
Actual clear braces lack the traditional metal brackets adhered to each tooth. Otherwise, they’re just the same.
Why Are Braces Made of Stainless Steel?
The durability of stainless steel with the combination of alloy elements like chromium makes them the best material for making braces.
I’ve mentioned this before, but it can’t be understated.
A stainless steel alloy is the premium metal choice for traditional braces when considering cost versus effectiveness.
Are Braces Magnetic?
Braces are not magnetic because they are made with austenitic stainless steel or similarly non-ferromagnetic materials.
You may have read somewhere that stainless steel is magnetic. This is true if the primary alloy mixture is made up of iron.
But when it comes to braces, nickel is the primary alloy mixture that makes it austenitic.
And with the addition of a 12 to 30 wt% chromium-iron ratio, the composition your braces are made of is not magnetic.
So no need to worry about nearby magnets or the secondary magnetic detection of a metal detector.
I threw a lot of facts your way, and I’m sorry for that.
But knowing how metals react to magnetic fields and what metals are used in your braces should make you feel more comfortable with your metallic hardware.
And if all this information has your head spinning, let me make it as straightforward as possible.
Despite the type of metal used in your braces, they should never be the cause of setting off metal detectors.
Their sheer size all but guarantees it.