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 have value.

Lots of people have an old crown or bridge tucked away in a drawer or 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 these items are worth something. After all, why else would your dentist have given them to you? But besides their scrap metal value, they're worth nothing at all. They can't otherwise be reused.

So since the price of gold and other precious metals typically found in dental alloys (platinum, palladium, silver) has risen so drastically in the past decade, why not find a buyer for your items 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 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.

Determining the weight of your restoration is straightforward enough. But the type of alloy used to make it adds a lot of variability to this equation.

That's because some dental alloys contain gold, as well as other valuable metals (typically platinum, palladium and silver). Or at the other extreme, have no precious metal content at all.

Background - Dental alloy classifications.

Dental alloys are divided into categories based on their level of precious metal content. They are:  a) Precious (high noble),  b) Semi-precious (noble) and  c) Non-precious (non-noble). For more details about this classification system, use this link.

a) Gold dental alloys.

The different gold alloys commonly used in dentistry 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%).

Besides just gold, this type of alloy typically also contains amounts of palladium, platinum and silver.

b) "White gold" dental alloys.

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

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

This type of alloy 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 bridge?

As just the 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 for this reason, 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:

  • Your dentist may have made a remark to you or their assistant about the type of metal used and you may remember it.
  • 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 used. The only way to know precisely how much gold and other precious metals are in your crown is via a metallurgical assay (see below).


Gold-colored dental crowns frequently have value.

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

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 level for the last several years.)

  • 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 the price they pay you so to cover their refining costs (15 to 18% is the industry standard), 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 daily closing price reported in financial newspapers and on websites).

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

Each company will have their own payout rates.

To get a more complete idea of what's offered, 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 is more likely to be rather than a dental patient), you're given a higher rate (the 90% number we mentioned previously).
  • Everything just mentioned 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 as mentioned above, silver looking ones can too.

Additionally, both types of alloys may also contain some percentage of platinum, palladium and silver.

That means it's best to just assume that everything you have is worth something. And it should all just be lumped together.

Dental work of interest.

Here's a list of the different kinds of restorations that may contain valuable metals and therefore should be sold to your dental scrap buyer.

  • crowns
  • caps
  • bridges
  • onlays
  • inlays
  • partial dentures
  • implants
 

You should also send in extracted teeth (see below) that have any of the above items still attached, or gold foil dental fillings.

Items of lesser interest.

Buyers typically aren't interested in the following:

  • Amalgam dental fillings - This is the typical silver-colored, single-office visit tooth filling.
  • Silver-colored partial dentures - You'll need to inquire but this type of appliance typically isn't wanted by scrap buyers (although they can recycle its metal for you). Gold partials on the other hand are an entirely different matter and very likely have significant value.
Terms used for precious restorations.

Dental terms used to describe valuable metals include:

  • gold
  • silver
  • platinum
  • white gold
  • porcelain-fused-to-metal (PFM's)
  • porcelain-fused-to-gold (PFG's)
  • precious
  • semi-precious
  • high noble
  • noble
 

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 of dental scrap will be prepared to handle this situation. Refiners typically just put everything in a crucible and separate the metal off by melting it down.

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 past decade, more and more outlets for selling dental scrap locally have cropped up. For example, in your own town a jeweler, pawnshop, coin shop or even a dental laboratory may offer this service.

The disadvantage of selling locally.

The downside to dealing with the vast majority of local outlets 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 set standard rate. There won't be any metallurgical assay involved (a scientific appraisal of the actual amount of precious metal in your items).

This is a big shortcoming:

  • With gold-colored dental work, since the buyer can't be sure of the purity involved the only price that they'll be able to offer, yet still protect their interests, is a low one.
  • In the case of silver-colored restorations, without an assay it's impossible for them to even know if any "white" precious metals are even present. So in cases where they are, there's no way they can offer you a reasonable payout.

So except for the case where you have an actual refinery in your town, selling your scrap dental work locally makes having that convenience an expensive one.

b) Online buyers / Precious-metal refiners.

There's no shortage of online companies that will buy your dental gold.

Online gold buyers?

We've used the term "online" here but all that refers to is that you learn details and make initial arrangements for your transaction through the company's website. You could get this same information over the phone, or from a shipment form if you had one.

  • When you do business with an online company that 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 refining companies. So why not just send it yourself, and get the better payout rate too?)

  • Another advantage of using an online refiner is that there's typically an assay (scientific testing) involved that documents your transaction.

    That means your payment is based on the actual precious metal content of your items. Including payment for the white precious metals typically found in dental alloys (platinum, palladium, silver), not just gold.

Services offered by online refiners.

Here's details about what to look for when comparing online gold buyers.

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).

Some companies also offer additional services such as package insurance and tracking.

b) No minimum quantity.

It's pretty common for online refiners to state on their website that "no amount is too small." But if you only have one or just a few crowns, or a single bridge, it might be a good idea to call or email them to get specific details.

  • Since they have fixed expenses associated with handling every transaction, companies are likely to lower their payout rate for smaller amounts.

    But especially in the case where you know your items do have value (and especially if their value involves white precious metals), then since an assay will be involved you're still likely to get a better rate than if you sold locally.

  • In the case where some type of minimum is involved, consider adding in damaged or unwanted jewelry to your shipment to boost its value.
c) Metallurgical assays.

What you want is for your items to be assayed. This is scientific testing that determines precisely what types of metals are present in your scrap and in what quantities.

This would be an important point for us when comparing companies. If no assay is involved, there's absolutely no way you can be accurately (fairly) compensated for the precious metal content of your items.

State-of-the-art testing involves melting your items down and using a process called "inductively coupled plasma" (ICP) analysis, however there are other methods that can be used. Ideally, there will be some type of certification of the assay.

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 contains (primarily gold, silver, palladium and platinum). Some companies only pay out for gold, and that's a rip-off.

e) 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 into their calculator, 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 of websites found payouts that ranged from 70 to 90% of the "spot" price of the metal involved.

  • At least for gold, the "spot" price used is typically its daily close on the London Metal Exchange (the "London fix"). But a company should state which day's close will be used.

    Is it the day your shipment was received, assayed, an average price based on both dates, or just whichever day happens to be the most advantageous for the buyer? Honest companies will state a specific policy.

f) Payout rate guarantees.
  1. Most companies first 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 your 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 very accurate testing did take place.

    We won't pretend to be experts on this matter but two published sources we referenced for this page (Kugel 2013, Circelli 2012) [page references] stated that industry wide, the average amount of time needed to perform a complete assay was 5 to 7 days. And to fully process a lot (from arrival to payout) 5 to 10 days was typically needed.

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

    While the testing in this case may be quite accurate, we don't see how.

    To us, this type of cash-on-the-spot scenario would be more of a sign of a "middleman" operation. The situation where you're paid a standard base rate for your items (a low-ball "guesstimate"). The middleman then turns around and has the scrap precisely assayed and reaps the rewards.

c) Local buyers / Refiners.

Don't overlook the case that you may have a local precious metal refiner right in your own city. All it takes to find out is a quick web search or a look in the telephone book. If so, you can get the convenience of dealing locally yet still get a professional assay and preferred rate.

 

 
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