Thar's Gold in Them Thar Teeth

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Tuesday, May 27, 2008

That crown your dentist just took off your molar and plunked onto a tray may look like a broken hunk of coffee-stained enamel, but it could be worth money. And not just to you.

With gold prices high, even a small piece has significant monetary value. No one knows this better than those in the precious-metal recovery field, who have a new hunger for dental "waste." This might mean gold (which broke the $1,000-an-ounce barrier earlier this year), silver (about $20 an ounce), palladium ($500 an ounce or so) or platinum (a scorching $2,200 or more an ounce).

Reclaimers sometimes show up at a dentist's office with a troy ounce scale in hand and a wad of cash in their pocket and send what they acquire to a refiner. Other dentists collect the material themselves and send it to a refiner.

But what about you, the rightful owner of the valuable dental repair? According to Fred L. Peterson, spokesman for the American Dental Association, there is no recommended policy for dentists to follow. "It would be treated like any other waste, where someone comes by to collect it," he says.

If you ask for it, though, the dentist is obligated to hand it over.

Sheldon Goldner, president of Precious Metal Refining Service in Barrington, Ill., points out that there are other elements in a crown that must be separated from the gold before it's useful. "The downside for the patient is they don't have a lot of volume," he says. "The dentist usually keeps those crowns -- maybe gives the patient a credit -- and he accumulates it and sends it to people like us. "

Those collected crowns can add up. In March, Goldner says he sent a check for $18,000 to a single dentist's office in upstate New York.

More creative dentists, such as Aurelio Roca of Arlington, use the gold for other purposes. "Aurelio made me a bracelet out of gold and dental wax," said Beverly Roca, his wife. "He put our kids' names on it. It's kind of creepy when I think about it, but it's sanitized."

-- Buzz McClain


© 2008 The Washington Post Company

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