What could happen to a tooth after it was extracted? One would think that it says its goodbyes at the dental office. But the truth is that there are several possibilities where a tooth could end up after its extraction.
There are numerous paths a tooth might take. In fact, when the dentist puts your tooth on his or her tray, the adventure is just beginning! Its end point may depend on the situation you are in, or certain decisions made by your dentist.
Normally, in a dental office, there are several wastes that cannot be directly thrown into the garbage. Extracted teeth may be covered with saliva, blood, or other tissues that make them potentially infectious. Medical waste would comprise anything that contains blood, including teeth, as well as sharp instruments, and objects that contain dangerous chemicals.
Specialized medical waste management companies collect biomedical waste from dental practices. This waste must first be sterilized by autoclave to kill all microbes that can cause disease. Then the sterile waste is separated into what can be recycled (example plastics) and what needs to be incinerated. A tooth would eventually be incinerated if your dentist sends it to a biomedical waste disposal company.
Recycling of toxic metals
An extracted tooth with a grey filling could not be incinerated as it is, because the mercury contained in the filling would end up in the atmosphere.
In this case, such a tooth is instead sent to a metal recycling centre, which removes the gray filling of a tooth before it is incinerated. The remaining amalgam can be recycled to make thermometers or fluorescent light bulbs.
Recycling precious metals
If a tooth contains gold, there are processing centres that remove such a precious material and recycle it.
Gold is the most valuable metal used in dentistry. Its lack of aesthetics makes it less popular nowadays. But it remains a material of choice to restore damaged teeth, and lasts a very long time. Dentists can use gold to make fillings or even crowns. If a tooth that contains gold is extracted, this precious metal can be preserved and recycled.
Teeth returned to patients
In most countries, it is not forbidden for the dentist to return a tooth to the person from whom it was extracted. It’s even routine for deciduous teeth. They are returned to the child for the Tooth Fairy to exchange them for gifts!
On the other hand, your dentist may choose not to give you back your tooth if any infection or pathology is suspected.
The extracted teeth can be used to educate the new generation of dentists. Teeth can be sent to research laboratories to study their composition, biology, development or new techniques.
Dentists can also send their teeth to universities for students to practice what they learn in theory. Dentists could also keep these teeth for their own continuing education learning to practice new techniques.
- Bhaskar A, Saumyendra V S, Sumit B, Srishti A. (Waste Management in Dental Office). Indian J Community Med. 2012 Jul-Sep; 37(3): 201–202.