Experts estimate that over 20 million teeth are extracted each year in the United States alone. That’s a lot of teeth – what happens to them after they are removed?
Patient Takes It Home
You’d figure, since it’s your tooth, you can do whatever you want with it – keep it or abandon it at the dentist’s office. But that’s not necessarily true. What happens to your tooth depends on your dentist, his or her training, and assorted local, state and federal health regulations.
Your tooth may contain tiny amounts of blood, saliva, or tissue residue, which makes it a “medical waste product.” A dentist may have been taught that returning medical waste to a patient is against the law, but The American Dental Association, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) all say that you can take your tooth with you. Your dentist may want (or be required to) sterilize the tooth before you take it home.
But not all dentists want their patients to take custody of their extracted teeth. There may be local laws or insurance concerns about handing over medical waste, or they may be saving up for an iPad (see #3 below).
If retaining your tooth after extraction is an issue for you, or if the tooth in question has some monetary value such as a gold cap or crown, work it out with your dentist while the tooth is still in your mouth.
According to the Center of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) extracted teeth that do not contain metal fillings should be treated as infectious material and placed in a hazardous waste container. The container is then picked up by whatever medical waste management company your dentist employs, and is incinerated. Should you be interested, your tooth can survive sustained temperatures of up to 600 degrees.
If your tooth does contain metal (specifically, “amalgam,” is a combination of metals hat may include elemental mercury, silver, zinc, tin, and copper which is used to fill and repair teeth). The CDC says amalgam can’t be incinerated due to concerns about the metal releasing toxic fumes (mercury emissions) when exposed to very high temperatures.
Typically, your dentist places teeth containing amalgam into a separate container from the medical waste, and sends the material to a specialized medical recycling center. The hazardous materials are then removed from the teeth and properly disposed of before further processing takes place. Your dentist may also send waste such as grindings, molds and other dental scrap to be recycled as well.
Your dentist gets paid for the metal, in cash – or even in Apple products (450 crowns = an iPad).
Is it worth it for you to take your tooth home and try to resell it for cash? Probably not. You have to sell a lot of teeth to make any sort of significant cash, and most recycling business buy bulk only – they aren’t interested in 1 tooth with an amalgam filling.
The exception might be a dental restoration that contains a significant amount of gold. But bear in mind you’re selling scrap metal, and are unlikely to get anything near the per ounce price of the pure metal. You might get about 60 bucks for the average gold crown.
Education And Research
Some dentists donate extracted teeth to dental schools or to medical research labs. Your dentist may also save patients’ teeth for his or her own continuing education, some classes require a dentist to bring extracted teeth to class so that they can practice new techniques.
This isn’t something you need to worry about unless you’re a celebrity. But if you are, take your teeth home with you or they may end up auctioned to the highest bidder. Even worse, the tooth may be used to clone you, as dentist Michael Zuk, a graduate of Trump U, wants to do with John Lennon’s tooth. Zuk purchased Lennon’s molar for $30,000 in 2011.
And then there’s celebrity dentist, Dr. Bill Dorfman, who has been quoted as saying he keeps some patients’ teeth, with the hopes of selling them someday on eBay. (Dorfman later retracted that story.)
Dentists also may use patients’ extracted teeth as advertising for their business. These days that’s more likely to happen in countries that offer “street dentistry.” But a century or so ago, American dentists like Painless Parker used patient’s teeth as visual aids during educational seminars, and – at least in Parker’s case – had 357 teeth (all pulled in one day, said Parker) made into a necklace that he proudly wore around his neck. Parker’s souvenirs can be viewed at the Temple University’s dental history museum.
Parker’s showmanship didn’t make him friends in the profession, but he was a success. Back in the early 20th century he owned 28 dental practices on the West Coast, employed over 70 dentists, and made over $3million a year.