If you’re a traveler, you may worry that your dental implants might cause you extra hassle by setting off metal detectors at the airport. Not to worry, they (probably) won’t. Many people with dental implants pass through airport security all the time without problems.
However, the question of why they won’t has confused many people, including implant dentists. Let’s explore the answer.
How Metal Detectors Work
Metal detectors work by creating a magnetic field around you in a series of pulses. These pulses create a natural echo, which the detector turns into a reading. When a metal object passes through the detector, the magnetic field created by the machine induces a magnetic field in the object. This disrupts the echo the machine is expecting to hear, creating one that is larger and longer than the one it’s expecting.
Dentists and laypeople have proposed three theories about why dental implants don’t set of the detectors:
- Implants are insulated from the detector by your jawbone
- Titanium doesn’t create a magnetic field
- Dental implants are too small to set off the metal detector
A: Implants Are Insulated from the Detector
Certainly, it seems possible that a metal detector might not be able to find metal that is hidden inside bone. Of course, if people knew they could stymie metal detectors by insulating their metal, it wouldn’t make them very useful.
And this explanation fails to account for the fact that orthopedic implants, like replacement hips, which are just as insulated by the body, if not more, still set off metal detectors.
B: Titanium Doesn’t Create a Magnetic Field
This answer is patently false. However, people may have gotten this impression based on the fact that many older metal detectors didn’t pick up titanium and other noble metals. And it’s worth noting that not all alloys of titanium produce the same strength of magnetic field.
C: Implants are Too Small to Set Off the Metal Detector
This seems intriguing. Many people note that if they have small titanium screws they don’t set off metal detectors. It may also be true for dental implants. But tiny gum wrappers with a small amount of aluminum in them have been known to set off detectors , and some implant setups (like dentures with a milled bar attachment ) actually have a lot of metal, so it’s not just the size.
Instead, it’s likely that the answer is a combination of all three factors. Dental implants are small, and they’re made of a metal that is harder to detect, and they’re insulated. This combination means that most people with dental implants won’t have a problem, but . . . some people might. And if you do set off the detector, you have to be prepared for a patdown . Or you can get metal-free implants that definitely won’t set off detectors.