How to sell scrap dental gold. / What's it worth? -

How to calculate the value of a gold crown. / How to compare dental gold buyers - Guarantees, payout rates, assays. / Using a local buyer vs. online refiner.

Your old dental crowns, bridges and gold fillings probably have some value.

Lots of people have an old crown or bridge tucked away in a box somewhere, possibly even more than one. If you do, you might be surprised to learn that there's a market for this kind of scrap dental work.

If you think about it, it's only logical to assume that the metal used to make these items is worth something. After all, why else would your dentist have given them to you?

But besides for their actual metal content, these items have no other value at all (they can't be reused). So, since the price of gold, as well as other precious metals often found in dental alloys (platinum, palladium, silver), have risen so much in recent years, why not find a buyer and sell them?

Here are the things you'll need to know.

  1. How much gold (and other precious metals) do dental restorations contain?
  2. How much money can a gold dental crown be worth?
  3. What kinds of dental work are likely to have value?
  4. Where can you sell dental gold? (Comparing buyers. Local vs. online companies.)

1) How much gold is in a dental crown?

A scrap dental crown's value is simply based on how much precious metal it contains, which is a function of both its size (weight actually) and the type of alloy that's been used to make it.

While the weight factor is straight forward enough, the type of alloy used adds a lot of variability to this equation.

a) Gold dental alloys.

For example, there are a number of different gold alloys used in dentistry and they can have a karat value ranging anywhere from around 10 to 22. At 10 karats, the alloy is about 40% gold. At 20 karats, it's roughly 80%. Probably on average, the typical yellow-colored gold dental crown is around 16 karat (67%).

(Dental alloy classifications.)

(The metal alloys used in dentistry are divided into categories based on the level of their precious metal content. They are:  a) precious/high noble,  b) semi-precious/noble and  c) non-precious/non-noble. For more details about these classifications, use this link.)

b) Silver-colored ("white gold") dental alloys.

Dentists can also use silver-colored alloys to make restorations. And some of these have a high precious metal content.

  • Those that do are literally classified as "precious" alloys (see categories link above). They're sometimes referred to as "white gold."
  • The term "precious" means that the alloy is composed of over 60% noble metal (gold, platinum, and/or palladium) of which at least 40% is gold. (Notice, even a silver-colored alloy can have a high gold content.)

This type of metal is frequently used to make all-metal crowns and bridges, or the metal substructure underneath porcelain surfaced ones.

c) Which type of alloy was used to make your crown or dental bridge?

As the dental patient, it's essentially impossible for you to know exactly what type of alloy has been used to make your dental work (thus all the more reason not to throw any of it away). And because of this, it's impossible for you to calculate exactly how much gold it contains.

Resources for information.

You may have some sources that can shed some light on this issue. For example, it's not uncommon for a dentist to make a remark about the type of metal that's been used. Or if you still have any of the paperwork involved (receipt, insurance claim, etc...), it likely makes reference to the category of the alloy (see Categories link above).

But either way, this will only be general information and unlikely to reveal the exact composition of the alloy. The only way to know precisely how much gold and other precious metals are in your crown is via a metallurgical assay (described below).

2) How much can a gold dental crown be worth?

To give you an idea about the value of scrap dental restorations, let's take the case of a dental crown. An average full "gold" crown (like the one shown in our picture) might weigh on the order of two to three grams. That's on the short side of about one-tenth of an ounce.

As an easy to use round number, let's do some calculations based on a gold price of $1000 per ounce. (It's been trading substantially above this price for the last several years.)

Gold-colored dental crowns frequently have value.

The sample calculations on this page are for a crown like this.

  • If the crown's alloy is 10 karat (40% gold), its value might be as much as $40.
  • If the crown's gold alloy is 22 karat (92%), its value could be as much as $92.

Keep in mind, you're selling scrap metal.

Of course any dental restorations you have to sell are scrap. The metal they contain is not in a pure or usable state. It will have to be refined.

That means the company to whom you sell your dental work will have to adjust (discount) the price they pay so to allow for refining costs, plus the amount of profit they need to stay in business. This adjusted price is often called the "payout" rate.

How much is the average payout for a crown?

As an example of what to expect, we found one company specializing in buying dental gold that stated on their website that they generally pay out 85% of gold's current "spot" price (the price reported by financial newspapers and websites).

  • That means if the spot price is our $1000/ounce, and your 1/10th ounce crown was made using 22 karat (92%) gold alloy, you would be paid 85% of the number we show above, which is $78.20.

    $78.20 = $1000(spot price) X .1(weight factor) X .85(refining fee) X .92(karat adjustment)

  • Since most gold crowns are more along the line of 16 karat (67%), an average one could be expected to bring around $56.95.

    $56.95 = $1000(spot price) X .1(weight factor) X .85(refining fee) X .67(karat adjustment)

Other companies will have their own payout rates.

Of course, that's just one company. To complete the picture, we did a quick scan of several gold buyer's websites and here's what we found.

  • The range of payout rates we saw seemed to range from 70 to 90% of the current spot market price.
  • With many companies the rate varied according to the amount of scrap gold you had to sell (or more accurately the amount of precious metal your volume of scrap contained).
  • In the case where you are a repeat customer (something a dentist rather than a dental patient might be), you're given a higher rate (the 90% number we mention above).
  • Everything mentioned above is in regard to payouts for gold. Dental alloys routinely contain other precious metals (platinum, palladium, silver) and they typically have their own separate rate (we have more to say about this below).

Porcelain-fused-to-metal dental crowns can be sold for their scrap metal value.

Even "white" alloys can contain precious metals, including gold.

3) What types of dental work do gold buyers want?

a) Assume everything you have has value.

Clearly any restoration made using a yellow metal may contain some percentage of gold. But keep in mind that silver-looking ones can too. And of course, both types may also contain some percentage of "white" precious metals such as platinum, palladium and silver.

That means it's best to just assume that everything you have is worth something, and it should all be lumped together. Any legitimate buyer knows to expect an assortment of different looking items.

Associated terms.

Here's a list of words frequently used to describe types of dental work that may, or even likely do, contain valuable metals.

  • Terms for restorations: dental crowns, caps, bridges, onlays, inlays, gold removable partial dentures.
  • Terms describing materials and construction: gold, silver, platinum, white gold, porcelain-fused-to-metal (PFM's), porcelain-fused-to-gold (PFG's), precious, semi-precious.
Items of less interest.

Buyers typically aren't interested in the following:

  • Silver-colored removable partial dentures - The metals used for these are typically chromium and cobalt.
  • Amalgam dental fillings. - This is the typical silver-colored, single-office visit filling.

b) Sell your dental work "as is."

Don't worry about removing any cement, porcelain or tooth parts from the dental work you have. That can be a difficult and unpleasant job. Any serious buyer will be prepared to handle this situation.

Biologic materials.

You do need to keep in mind that what you have to sell is probably contaminated with biologic materials. This is especially obvious when a tooth is still attached. But even restorations alone are likely to be contaminated with saliva and blood.

It's your obligation to handle and transport your materials with this in mind. Keeping them in a sealed container (pill bottle) or sealable plastic pouch (heavy duty baggie) makes a good choice.

As a gesture, you can reduce the microbial load found on your objects by soaking them in a 1:10 dilution of household bleach and water for 10 minutes.

4) How to sell your old dental work. - Comparing dental gold buyers.

a) Local buyers.

As the price of gold has risen over the years, more and more outlets for selling dental scrap have become available. For example, right in your own town a jeweler, pawnshop, coin shop or even a dental lab may offer this service.

The disadvantage of using a local buyer.

The downside with dealing with most local parties is that they'll just weigh your dental work (after separating it into all-metal and porcelain-covered groups) and pay you based on a standard rate. There won't be any assay involved (a scientific appraisal of the actual precious metal content of your items).

This is a big shortcoming. And since they can't be sure of what they're buying, it's easy enough to assume that the price they'll offer will be comparatively low.

b) Online buyers / Precious-metal refiners.

There's no shortage of online companies that will buy your dental gold (online in the sense that you learn details and make initial arrangements through their website). And there are advantages to using one.

  • When you do business with an online company who is also an actual precious-metals refiner you are, in effect, "cutting out the middleman."

    Most local gold buyers just turn around and sell the dental work they've bought to these same companies. So why not just do it yourself, and get the better payout rate too?

  • Another advantage is that there's typically (but not always) an assay (scientific testing) involved with the transaction. That means your payment is based on the actual precious metal content of your items, not just a (probably low) estimate.

Online refiners usually offer lots of services.

Here's details about what to look for when comparing gold buyers you've found on the web.

a) Free shipping.

Almost all refiners with an online presence offer free shipping. Typically you fill out a form on their website that includes your address, they'll then follow up by sending one of their mailers to you.

Besides just being prepaid, the mailer's envelope usually has a sturdy construction, and it contains some type of plastic bag that's appropriate for shipping biologic materials (attached tooth parts).

Also, compare any other services that the companies you're considering might offer such as package insurance and tracking.

b) No minimum quantity.

Take notice of each company's policy is in regard to handling just small amounts of dental gold (like one or two crowns).

After picking out a few that don't impose a minimum, make a comparison between them to see how each adjusts their payout rate for smaller amounts. (In cases where a minimum can't be avoided, consider adding additional items to your shipment such as unwanted jewelry.)

c) Metallurgical assays.

It only seems right that the materials you send in should be assayed. This is scientific testing that determines what types of metals are present in your scrap dental work and in what quantities.

This would be an important comparison point between buyers for us. Only via the use of some type of assay are you paid for precisely what you have sent in.

d) Make sure you're paid for other metals besides just gold.

If an assay is performed, make sure that you'll receive payment for all of the different types of precious metals that your dental work actually contains. Some companies only pay out for gold, even though most precious dental alloys contain platinum, palladium and silver too.

This would be another important comparison point for us. All dental gold buyers are quite aware of the different types of precious metals routinely found in dental alloys. If they're not offering to pay you for them, you're getting a bum deal.

Payout rates.

Be sure to compare the payout rates offered by the different buyers you're considering. Their websites usually feature some sort of "payout calculator."

  • To make an accurate comparison between companies, it doesn't necessarily matter what information you enter, just as long as you enter the exact same details at each website.

Obviously you're looking for the company that offers the highest rate (our check found payouts that seemed to run from 70 to 90% of the "spot" price of the metal, see above). Consider not being able to find any sort of payout rate information a giant red flag.

e) Payout rate guarantees.
  1. Most companies evaluate your materials and then based on this determination offer you a payout for them.
  2. You can then either accept the amount or request that your items are returned.

That's the guarantee, you have the option to accept the offer or not. In regard to this process, we would have the following comments to make.

  1. Our preference - Some refiners state that it takes several days, or even weeks, to assay the items. And if you choose to reject their offer, your materials come back to you as a lump of metal.

    We'd feel comfortable with this scenario. It suggests that a very accurate testing process did take place.

  2. Not so sure. - Other companies state that their evaluation is made, as well as a payout, in as little as 24 hours after the items are received. If you decide against taking their payout offer, your items are returned intact.

    While the testing in this case may be quite accurate (we don't know, but we don't see how), we'd have more confidence in the previous scenario.

    Dental work is often porcelain covered, and what you have to send in may include cut up bits and pieces from more than one restoration, which (especially if made years apart or by different dentists) were likely made using different alloys. Without destroying the dental work (like with the first example) it seems just getting an accurate weight of the metal involved, much less determining its exact composition, would be less precise.

c) Local buyers / Refiners.

Don't overlook the case that you may have a local precious metal refiner in your own city. If so, you can deal locally and still likely get a professional assay and preferred rate.



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