Getting a Bone Density Test in Toronto? What to Know Before You Go

September 22, 2023 | PocketHealth
Bone Density Test Toronto map of locations

If you need to get a bone density test in Toronto, here’s what to know before your appointment and how to get your results faster.

A bone density test, also be called a bone mineral density (BMD) test or dual-energy x-ray absorptiometry (DXA) scan, is an in-clinic test done to determine whether your bones are porous or dense. Bone density refers to the structure and mass of your bones. When bone tissue is dense it is strong because it has very few pockets or holes in it. However, porous bone tissue contains pockets or holes that weaken the overall structure of the bone, making it more likely to fracture.

How porous your bones are is a key indicator of how likely it is that you’ll develop osteoporosis. Your risk for developing osteoporosis can be difficult to analyze without a bone density test because many of those who develop the disease show no other symptoms.

Research from Osteoporosis Canada shows that 1 in 3 women in Canada will develop a fracture due to osteoporosis and that over 80% of fractures that happen in people over the age of 50 are caused by osteoporosis. To address this risk, the Canadian Government recommends all women and men over the age of 65 have regular bone density tests, and many individuals who have certain risk factors should get a scan earlier.

If your doctor has referred you for a bone density scan and you’re located in Toronto or GTA, you may want to know:

  • Why you need a bone density exam
  • Where to get your test done in Toronto
  • What wait times are like
  • How quickly you can access your bone density test results

At what age can you get a bone density test?

Your doctor will likely send you for a bone density exam if you are:

  • A man or woman over the age of 65 years
  • A post-menopausal woman between the ages of 50 and 64 years (or man in the same age range) who has or has a history of:
    • A fragility fracture after the age of 40 years
    • Low bone mass indicated by an X-ray
    • A vertebral fracture or a parent who had a hip fracture
    • A high alcohol intake or is currently smoking
    • A low body weight under 132 lbs
    • Significant weight loss of more than 10% of body mass since age 25
    • Rheumatoid arthritis or other disorder that weakens the bones

Using certain medications can lead to an increased risk for osteoporosis and your doctor may send you for a bone density test to track how your bones are responding to the medication. If you’re under the age of 50 but have a condition associated with low bone mass, such as certain thyroid disorders or inflammatory conditions, your doctor may also recommend bone density test sooner than 65 years of age.

Are bone density tests covered by OHIP?

In Canada, OHIP covers bone density tests that are done using a dual-energy X-ray absorptiometry or DXA device, which is the machine most often used by hospitals and is most effective at measuring small changes in bone density.

The Canadian Government recommends a bone density test annually for individuals at high risk for osteoporosis, but your doctor may send you for a test every two years if they are tracking how well treatment for bone density is working. Patients considered low-risk may receive an initial bone-density test, with a follow-up scan three years later for tracking purposes.

Where to get a bone density test in Toronto

Your doctor will provide you with a referral for a bone density test and, with the exception of emergency cases, you’ll book the appointment yourself through an imaging clinic in your area, unless your doctor advises you to book in at a hospital osteoporosis imaging clinic.

Toronto hospitals that provide bone density testing, include:

The following imaging clinics also provide bone density testing:

Bone density tests are not walk-in services and you’ll need to call ahead to book your appointment and bring your requisition when you arrive. You may book your own non-referral bone density test through a private clinic, but you will have to pay out of pocket for the test because OHIP doesn’t cover private bone density testing.

If you’ve recently had a barium examination or other imaging done that requires you to take a contrast medium, you may have to wait 10 to 14 days before having a bone density scan.

How long does it take to get a bone density test appointment?

How long you wait for a bone density test appointment in Toronto depends on the location and timing of your appointment. Call different imaging clinics as soon as you get your referral to find the soonest available appointment but remember that time of day and location can change how soon you get booked in.

How much does a bone density test cost in Toronto?

OHIP will cover the cost of your bone density test if:

  • It’s medically necessary
  • You meet the requirements for testing, which depend on your personal risk profile
  • Your doctor has given you a requisition form

In some cases, individuals may decide to book an appointment for a private bone density test, without a doctor’s referral to track their bone health themselves or for a second opinion. In these instances, OHIP doesn’t cover the cost of the test.

How to prepare for your bone density test

If you haven’t attended a bone density test appointment before, you may have questions about the procedure and how you can prepare. A bone density test is non-invasive and painless and you will be able to eat or drink as usual before the test.

To prepare for your bone density test:

  • Do not take calcium supplements 24 hours before the test
  • Avoid wearing metal jewelry
  • Avoid wearing clothing with metal buttons or buckles
  • Wear loose, comfortable clothing you can easily lie down in

Your technologist is not allowed to answer questions about the results of your bone density scan. However, you can ask questions about the procedure itself, like:

  • How do you share my images and results?
  • How long is my appointment?
  • Can anyone join me for support during my test?

How quickly can you get your bone density test results?

After your bone density test, the radiologist at the clinic will review your scan and prepare a report. Your referring physician will typically receive the results of your bone density test within a week of your test and will book a follow-up appointment with you to discuss your results.

It can be difficult to wait for the results, especially if you’re nervous about participating in certain activities, for fear of a fracture. With PocketHealth, you can securely access, share and store your medical images and reports. In addition, PocketHealth Report Reader makes it easy to understand the technical terms in your imaging report and highlights any follow-up recommendations so you’re fully informed on your next steps. Access your records here.

How to understand your bone density results

The images from your bone density test will be categorized based on your T-score. The T-score is the baseline average bone density score of a healthy 30-year-old.

A negative (-) T-score value means you have thinner bones or lower bone density than those of an average 30-year-old. The greater the negative number is, the less bone density you have compared to that baseline. A positive (+) T-score value means that your bones are denser, thicker and stronger than those of an average 30-year-old.

  • A T-score of -1 or better (0 or +) is considered normal and healthy.
  • A T-score between -1 and -2.5 is categorized as low bone loss.
  • A T-score less than -2.5 is categorized as osteoporosis.

Your T-score helps determine your fracture risk and whether you are at risk of developing, or have developed osteoporosis.

Protect your bone health with bone density testing

If your doctor has recommended you get a DXA scan or bone density test, you’re not alone: all Canadian adults over the age of 65 should have annual bone density testing to determine whether they’re at risk of osteoporosis.

Accessing your bone density results through PocketHealth can help you prepare any questions you may have for your physician and lets you gain a second opinion if needed, allowing you to remain an informed participant in your healthcare journey.

How PocketHealth works

Learn more about how to use PocketHealth to access and share your bone density test results.

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