Have you ever wondered what happens to your tooth after it is extracted by your dentist? Surprisingly, it’s not so cut-and-dry.
When a tooth is removed, there’s not really one specific place it goes. Some methods of disposal cost the dentist money, others result in a small profit for the dentist, and others are just a little weird.
Read on to find out what happens to extracted teeth.
Eight Journeys Your Extracted Tooth May Take
After a tooth is extracted, the dentist will usually place it on the tray next to the dental chair. While a lot of people may think that an extracted tooth has hit the end of the road; its journey has just begun.
Here’s eight different journeys that your tooth may take after it leaves your mouth.
1 – Incinerated with Biomedical Waste
According to the OSHA Bloodborne Pathogen Standard, extracted teeth should be placed in a hazardous waste container. After that, the teeth are normally picked up by a medical waste management company that takes them and then incinerates them with other biomedical waste.
Normally, teeth that do not have any metal from prior dental work go to an oven to be incinerated. If the tooth has metal, it will likely follow one of the next two routes of disposal.
2 – Go to a Metal Recycling Center
If the extracted tooth has amalgam filling material in it, then incineration causes mercury to be released into the atmosphere. Because of this, regulations normally do not permit the incineration of extracted teeth containing amalgam, and they must be sent to a specialized recycling center that can remove the amalgam before disposing of the teeth.
Find out what’s in an amalgam filling.
3 – Go to a Dental Scrap Metal Dealer
The dental scrap metal industry is not well-known. If your tooth had a lab-made restoration on it, your dentist may very well save it and ship it off to a scrap metal dealer who will melt down the metal, assay it, and cut your dentist a check.
A simple Google search for “dental scrap metal refiner” or a quick browse through professional dental journals will reveal many advertisements for companies that make their money from buying metal that used to be in someone’s mouth.
This Sun-Sentinel article tells the story of Michael Kutschmende, a man with cerebral palsy who had four gold teeth extracted at the dental office. His dentist refused to give them back. This article exposes the world of dental scrap metal recycling and how dentists can profit from extracted teeth.
Below is an interesting video from the company Crown Men that details the process of getting valuable metal from restorations on extracted teeth. If you head over to their website, you can read testimonials from dentists who have received a free iPod Touch along with a check after their first time using the service.
4 – Kept by the Patient
Although some dentists believe otherwise, there are no regulations prohibiting a dentist from giving patients back their teeth following extractions. The American Dental Association, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) all give this practice a green light. However, many dentists do not return extracted teeth to patients and it remains a controversial subject.
To learn more about this controversy and to find out what some patients do with their extracted teeth, read the post Can You Keep Your Extracted Teeth?
5 – Used for Educational Purposes
Some teeth end up being donated to universities. Many dentists save extracted teeth so that they can be donated to a university and used by dental students for their learning.
In the summer between earning my business degree and going to dental school, I dropped off several empty jars at local oral surgeons’ offices. They kindly filled them with extracted teeth that I used in learning how to work on human teeth.
While in dental school I wrote a post about how a chipped tooth can be fixed with a filling. I used an extracted tooth for that project!
Extracted teeth aren’t just used by dental students to further their learning. Dentists use them as well for continuing education; some continuing education courses require that a dentist bring extracted teeth to the course so they can practice on them. I went to a thrilling course on how to do better root canals and took a few extracted teeth in order to practice the new techniques that were taught.
6 – Used for Research Purposes
Dental companies are always performing research to determine the best way to bond fillings and crowns to teeth, how to make teeth more resistant to cavities, how teeth react to different forces, and many other things. When figuring out how to improve their tooth-related product, real teeth work best.
7 – Get Sold to the Highest Bidder
This is probably the least likely path that an extracted tooth takes. It requires that the patient be famous.
Dr. Bill Dorfman, the dentist that was on the TV show Extreme Makeover, has bragged to TMZ that he saves his famous patients’ teeth when he pulls them.
He states, “There have been a few really famous people and I thought one day maybe I could sell this on eBay.” In a later interview with TMZ, Dr. Dorfman backtracked this claim…
He may be able to get a pretty good price on eBay for a celebrity’s tooth, but it seems likely a lawsuit would follow in order to determine who is rightfully entitled to the cash.
Back in 2011, an interesting piece of Beatles memorabilia went on the auction block. John Lennon’s tooth was acquired by Canadian dentist Dr. Michael Zuk, who said he was obsessed with it. He ended up paying over $30,000 for it; a sum that makes the tooth fairy want to bury her head in shame.
In one article, Dr. Michael Zuk said that he plans on taking the tooth on tour, to be shown off at dental schools worldwide. He also alluded to the fact that we may be able to someday clone John Lennon, since the nerve on the inside of the tooth contains John Lennon’s DNA.
Who knows, maybe Taylor Swift’s wisdom teeth are hidden away in somebody’s attic awaiting the auction house at some future date!
8 – Become Trophies for the Dentist
Painless Parker was a dentist who practiced around 100 years ago. He once pulled 357 teeth in one day and then had them strung as a necklace that he wore around his neck. He also had a bucket of teeth he’d extracted that he brought with him when he lectured on dental hygiene. That bucket of teeth can be seen today at Temple University’s dental history museum.
Although this likely wouldn’t happen today in the United States, there are dentists in other countries who still show off the teeth that they have removed. Below is a street dentist in Morocco, showing off the teeth he’s pulled, and the dentures that he’s ready to put in his next patient’s mouth.
As you can see, there most assuredly is life after death for your pearly whites. There are many paths a tooth can take out of the dental office.
Do you have any questions or comments regarding the wild world of extracted teeth? Did I miss anything? I’d love to hear what you have to say in the comments section below. Thanks for reading!