Unless you're in the market for a mouthful of gold fillings or a wedding band, the dizzying spiral in gold prices -- or even the more recent plunge -- should pass you right by without much effect.

If you're in the hospital, or even your dentist's chair, for X rays, you will feel the pinch of rising silver prices. Similarly, photographers will see the price of their film rise, and hosts and hostesss will pay more for sterling silver service.

Gold, despite the hold it has had on human imagination for centuries, is a relatively unimportant metal. Silver's place in the basic economy is more important, but it too plays a minor role.

For the most part, the big jump in the price of these two precious metals is of less consequence to the average citizen than a small increase in steel prices.

Unless the sharp boom in gold and silver prices triggers speculative mania in markets for more important commodities such as copper -- there is some evidence it has -- life should go on pretty much as usual.

That hasn't been the case in previous gold-price spirals.

In the past, most times that gold prices rose sharply, the U.S. dollar felt the heat and declined in terms of other currencies such as the West German mark, the Swiss franc or the Japanese yen.

When the dollar declines, it takes more of them to buy the same amount of a foreign currency. As a result, the price of goods Americans buy from abroad rises.

This time, during probably the biggest surge in gold prices in post-war history, the dollar not only held its own against the mark, franc and yen, it even strengthened a bit.

Most governments, including the United States, are anxious to banish from the minds of their citizens the notion that gold is a form of money. Therefore they do not like the idea that gold prices are surging because the surge reinforces the conviction held by many of the earth's dwellers that gold is more prized than paper currencies.

But because the surge in gold prices seems to have had little spillover effect in the paper currency foreign exchange markets, governments for the most part are holding their breath but taking little action.

Why is it different this time? As is often the case in the complex and secretive ways of international finance no one quite knows for sure.

But most analysts have concluded that the recent surge in gold and silver prices does not represent a fear of the dollar on the part of investors.

The gold situation, they say, is due to fears among oil-rich Middle Eastern investors that their regimes are not long for this world.

Wealthy investors in Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and Oman -- among others -- look at the fall of the shah and the instability in Iran plus the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan as threats to the existence of their own regimes.

Preparing for the worst, these investors are buying up gold as fast as they can in order to have an easily transportable store of wealth that is anonymous just in case they have to "take the money and run," according to metals expert James Sinclair.

The gold price spiral, then, represents a flight from all currencies, not from the dollar. It is harder to hide a bank account than to stash a bar of gold.

That is not to say that everyone who buys gold is an edgy Arab. But if most of the driving force behind the gold price surge is political rather than economic, it explains why the dollar market has been seemingly unaffected by the recent boom.

If the basic analysis is correct, the price of gold should resume its upward climb soon, as those who were trading the metal for paper profits cash in and the Middle East hoarders continue to buy.

Always remember, however, that few know very much about the gold market, and nearly all big gold buyers work through agents such as Swiss and Germans banks or the important London gold trading houses.

The silver market seems to have been compelled by many of the same forces shaping the gold market, but with one important exception: Several large buyers have been trying to corner the market using silver futures. The nation's two major silver exchanges -- the Commodity Exchange here and the Chicago Board of Trade -- have put severe curbs on silver futures trading to try to prevent a shortage of the metal when delivery time comes in February and March.

The sharp rise in silver and gold has captured the headlines and the fascination of many average citizens. They have been lining up outside offices of major retail buyers of precious metals, as well as many minor ones, to sell old pieces of jewelry, bridgework and coins.

The prices they received are well under the gold and silver prices published each day in the newspaper. But the crowds have been so large, nonetheless, that any businesses that smelt old gold and silver into refined metal have stopped buying because they have so much of the stuff.

Still, while the average citizen might be a little wealthier for selling grandfather's old gold watch, or a little poorer buying one for himself or herself, that's about the extent of it so far.

Gold has some exotic applications in electronics and other high-technology industries. Dentists use gold, although less than they used to, and jewelry makers use it too.

Silver is an essential ingredient in photographic film, including X-ray film, and an important alloy in tooth fillings. It too has some electronic applications as well as jewelry and similar uses.

But, the average citizen who doesn't take pictures and eats with stainless steel knives and forks can read the headlines with fascination, but fear little for his pocket-book.