Dig Out Old
Coin and jewelry dealer Scott
Taber holds tooth with small gold crown that he
estimated contains $15 in gold in Shrewsbury,
NEW YORK — 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 $1,000 an
"People are really cashing in. If a dentist
passes away, their kids come in with a big pile
of gold teeth," said Scott Taber, owner of Taber
Coins, a Shrewsbury, Mass., coin dealer that
buys dental gold and then resells it to a gold
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.
That deal sounds pretty good to people like Ann
Davis, a 63-year-old retiree in Rock Island,
Ill., who had gold caps and a bridge removed
nearly 40 years ago and has held on to them ever
"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
Gold prices have been surging since late last
year as the weak dollar, record crude-oil prices
and fears of a U.S. recession have enhanced its
appeal as a haven for investors.
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. 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.
Gold is still used to make some crowns, but
fillings today are more commonly made of other
substances, such as less expensive mercury
amalgam or more cosmetically attractive polymer
"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.
"They must be valuable or otherwise the dentist
wouldn't give them to you in a bag."
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
But don't expect to get rich hawking gold
fillings and crowns.
Dr. Parviz Azar-Mehr, a dental specialist who
runs a private practice in Westwood, Calif.,
said he often gives patients the dental gold he
removes but says it's rarely enough to sell.
"Usually the amount of gold is so little that
it's not significant," Azar-Mehr said.
And replacing a gold crown isn't cheap. Newer
porcelain and gold crowns can cost $500 to
$3,000 apiece, and not all insurance companies
will pay for the procedure.
Besides the financial benefit, Taber 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,"