11 January 2016

Don't bother harvesting your grandfather's gold fillings

About 25 years ago, when my father was dying of metastatic prostatic cancinoma, he told me bluntly to make sure to ask the mortician to extract his teeth so that I could have the gold fillings.  He had had a lot of reparative dental work done in the 1930s-40s and at about $400/oz didn't want to see the gold wasted.

When he did die, I was either too busy or too shy to bring the matter up to the mortician.  For the next several decades I wondered in the back of my mind whether some mortuary assistant with a pair of pliers had enriched himself at our expense.

This year my question was answered.  I had the opportunity to speak with a funeral director on an unrelated matter, and brought up the question that had been nagging at me for so long.  He laughed and noted that he was uniquely qualified to address the question, not because of his mortuary experience, but because his father was a dentist.

During his father's dental career, it was common practice to extract teeth, many of which had metal fillings, including gold.  Discarding the teeth into the environment was discouraged because of the heavy metals, so his father kept all the teeth he extracted in a large coffee can.  Then one day the office building burned down.  The family retrieved what they could from the office ruins, and in doing so found the coffee can with the organic material gone but the metal fillings fused into a solid mass.  They took the block to a metalworking company and were rewarded with the princely sum of ... three dollars.

His explanation was that gold itself is too soft to be used as a filling on a grinding surface.  "Gold" fillings are typically other amalgams colored with minuscule amounts of gold.  They are offered to the public as a cosmetic enhancement, not as a financial investment.

I'm not sure whether the same applies to often rather striking "gold teeth" one can see on a Google image search.

A related post from last year:  A concrete block filled with human teeth.

Photo credit:  Myteethnvd's Weblog.


  1. I'm told that my grandmother had perfect teeth until she asked her husband (who was a dental technician) to give her a gold tooth like all her friends had. My father had good teeth too; and I (now 51) and my son (23) have never needed a filling of any sort (despite our somewhat poor tooth care regimes). Unfortunately we may have also inherited a tendency to ingrown toenails and possibly Alzheimers disease.

  2. does this mean the climactic scene in Marathon Man is not realistic? or were all the ill gotten gains diamonds?

  3. maybe, maybe not. http://www.animated-teeth.com/dental_crowns/t-sell-scrap-dental-gold.htm#crown.gold

  4. Maybe I should rethink my retirement career of grave robbing to supplement Social Security.

  5. Mercury is illegally exported to 3rd world countries to dissolve gold traces from ground up gold ore, then you just distill off the mercury. It just happens that mercury vapors are very toxic.
    All common gold products are actually gold alloys, however it's doubtful that any of them are amalgams, which only refers to blends/alloys of mercury BTW. Amalgam fillings were used widely for decades, but they rarely contain gold AFAIK. Gold crowns don't use amalgams. So I guess you'll have to ask a retired dentist about how often for how long gold colored amalgam fillings were a thing, fillings not crowns.

    1. Yesterday I happened to visit my dentist and asked him about dental gold. He said that gold may have been used for fillings in my father's era, but there is no point in doing so now. In terms of value he noted that a gold crown nowadays may incorporate gold that would be worth about $40.

  6. I wouldn't say the same for bridges. My grandfather's bridge garnered a couple hundred bucks. Which was enough to fix a ring I found in my grandmother's jewelry box.


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