Patients sell off gold dental work as recession bites

Dental patients in the States have found a novel way of making a quick buck.

They’re trading in their old dental caps, fillings and bridgework they saved years ago and selling them off as the price of gold climbs.

Gold prices have been surging since late last year as the weak dollar, record crude-oil prices and fears of a US recession have enhanced its appeal as a haven for investors.

Instead of hanging on to the pieces as souvenirs, many are turning them over to pawnbrokers, coin shops and specialised firms that buy ‘dental gold’ hoping to take a bite out of the metal’s historic run to $1,000 an ounce.

‘People are really cashing in. If a dentist passes away, their kids come in with a big pile of gold teeth,’ said coin dealer Scott Taber, who buys dental gold – – and then resells it to a gold smelter.

He said he used to see only a few customers a month selling gold teeth, but now gets that many each week.

‘People are digging up the gold and starting to sell it,’ he said.

A gold crown typically uses about one-tenth of an ounce of 16-karat gold, which would fetch around $40 to $50 at today’s prices, Taber said.

Heavier pieces of dental gold can command prices of several hundred dollars, he said.

Gold set a record of $1,038.60 an ounce on March 17 and has since fallen to about $920, but experts say it could soon resume its upward climb.

Several precious metals analysts have even predicted $2,000 gold ahead as a global commodities boom pushes the price of raw materials further into record territory.

Recycling dental work isn’t just a US phenomenon.

Earlier this month we reported on how the Japan Denture Recycle Association, which started in December 2006, has recycled 30,000 dentures and raised about $176,500 for charity.

The JSRD have put false teeth collection boxes in cities across Japan to raise funds for UNICEF.

When dentures are recycled, the precious metals are extracted and sold and about 80% of the proceeds are given to charities like UNICEF Japan.

And here in Britain, a charity scheme encourages UK dentists to donate their patient’s old gold tooth fillings to a number of good causes, including Children in Need, the Royal British Legion Poppy Appeal and the Born Free animal welfare.

The recycling programme involves the collection of gold tooth fillings that have been donated by dental patients who do not wish to keep them following their removal or replacement.

Dentists then sterilise the unwanted fillings and store them until they can be sold to a precious metal assay company.

In the States, coin dealer Scott Taber observed that ‘people don’t mind selling dental gold because it’s far less emotional than parting with heirlooms like grandma’s wedding ring or the family silverware.

‘I haven’t seen anybody with sentimental teeth,’ he said.

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