Dentists have been using gold to restore teeth since antiquity. In some societies, gold teeth are considered beautiful and are a sign of wealth. Gold is still used to restore teeth in the United States, though most dental schools no longer teach dentists how to use it, and here is why.
For a long time, gold was considered the optimal material to use because it adheres tightly to the surface of the tooth. There is literally no gap between the gold and the tooth, which cannot be said for amalgam ceramic restorations or direct and indirect composites. Because of this, teeth with gold fillings are less likely to deteriorate, stain or develop more cavities. Gold is biocompatible, lasts a long time and does not corrode or tarnish.
Other reasons to use gold are that it expands and shrinks much like tooth material, which shrinks when it’s exposed to cold and expands when it’s exposed to heat. Gold is protective of the enamel edges of the tooth and even supports the health of the mouth overall. Gold can be polished smooth, which helps it resist plaque, is gentle on the tongue and other surfaces in the oral cavity and doesn’t wear away the opposite tooth when the patient chews. The metal does not absorb saliva or other fluids in the mouth, and a dentist does not need adhesive bonding to cement gold castings. Gold lacks mercury and doesn’t leach other toxins into the body.
Gold that is used in dentistry comes in two types: books of gold foil or gold foil wrapped around molten wax and powdered gold, which is called E-Z Gold.
The drawbacks of gold restorations are fewer than the benefits. The main drawback of gold is that it’s more expensive than other types of restorations. To cut down on the cost of a gold restoration, some people actually ask their dentist if some of their gold jewelry can be melted down for the purpose.
In America, gold on the front teeth is considered unusual, and most Americans do not want gold restorations on any of their visible teeth. They opt for gold restorations for their molars while the more tooth-colored porcelain, resin, or composite is used for their front teeth.
Gold can be challenging for the dentist to apply, and the patient needs to make at least two visits to the dentist’s office for a gold restoration. During the first visit, the dentist takes impressions of the patient’s tooth and gives them a temporary restoration. The permanent gold restoration is added on the second visit.
Gold, like other metals, must not be placed on top of another metal like silver. This can cause an electrochemical reaction that causes pain. This also means that teeth with adjacent restorations must not be done with two reactive metals, like gold and silver.
What Do Dentists Do With Old Gold Fillings?
The gold restorations that come out of a patient’s mouth belong to the patient, though some give their old dental work back to their dentist when they want more modern work such as porcelain or glass ionomer cement. The amount that a dentist or patient can get for selling a gold tooth restoration depends on the price of gold and the restoration’s karat value. A restoration that’s made of 10 karat gold is approximately 40 percent gold, while 20 karat gold is about twice that though it may be impossible to know the exact ratio of materials that go into the dental gold. Patients also have the option to find a service to refine dental scrap on their own and sell the gold themselves. How much is paid for the restoration also depends on the payout rate of the gold buying company. This is a price that takes into account the fact that impurities will need to be refined out of the dental gold.
Though gold for tooth restoration is not as popular as it was, it still has many benefits. As dental technology advances, gold will likely stop being used altogether in favor of innovative resins and materials.