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Old Dental Work

There’s gold (and big bucks) in them thar grills
Bull market in gold creates a strong demand for old dental work


Dazzled by the bull market in gold, people are digging through drawers for old dental caps, fillings and bridgework they saved years ago and selling them at prices that would make the tooth fairy blush.

Instead of hanging on to the pieces as souvenirs, many are turning them over to pawnbrokers, coin shops and specialized firms that buy “dental gold,” hoping to take a bite out of the metal’s historic run to $1,200 an ounce.

“People are really cashing in” said Tad Robison, owner of Asset Brokers & Loans of Midland, a precious metals dealer that 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 $60 at today’s prices, Robison said. Heavier pieces of dental gold can command prices of several hundred dollars, he said.

That deal sounds pretty good to people like Ann Davis, a 63-year-old retiree , who had gold caps and a bridge removed nearly 40 years ago and has held on to them ever since.

“You don’t want to throw it away because it might be worth something,” she said. “Now that gold’s going up it’s time to think about selling.”

Gold prices have been surging since 2000 as fears of a U.S. recession have enhanced its appeal as a haven for investors.

Gold is at $1200, and 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. That would roughly equal gold’s inflation-adjusted high of the 1980s.

Gold crowns, fillings and bridgework are usually made of 16-karat gold, an alloy that contains other metals such as silver, zinc and copper. That made gold dental work soft enough to shape but hard enough to form a biting surface. White gold fillings contain very little gold and is harder to refine.

Gold is still used to make some crowns, but fillings today are more commonly made of other substances, such as more cosmetically attractive polymer compounds.

“There’s a lot of people my age who have excess gold teeth and they don’t know what to do with them,” said Davis, who stashed her dental gold in a bank safe deposit box and recently began looking online for ways to sell it, but then decided to sell it at AB&L for more cash.

“They must be valuable or otherwise the dentists like Kathryn Winkel DDS of Midland wouldn’t give them to you in a bag to take to AB&L.”

Recycling dental work isn’t just a U.S. phenomenon. The Japan Denture Recycle Association, which started in December 2006, has recycled 30,000 dentures and raised about $176,500 for charity. Dentures use parts made of gold, silver, palladium and other precious metals, and the project’s leader estimates all the dentures discarded in Japan each year could raise nearly $70 million.

‘At Asset Brokers & Loans customers can chose to get paid cash, or drop their gold into the Salvation Army Red Kettle that we have set up’ said Tad Robison.

Besides the financial benefit, Robison says 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,” Robison said.