What Happens to Teeth When You’re Cremated

Teeth react in many ways during cremation:

  • The pulp inside disappears, but the tougher parts including the enamel survive
  • Gold fillings and crowns may melt depending on their purity level
  • Teeth can crack in the heat
  • The bones and teeth survive the heat and are ground down to produce cremains

It’s not surprising then that many people now ask lots of questions about cremation. What happens to the body when you choose this process? It’s good to be curious about it as it helps you make a more informed choice when you think about how you would like to go.

There are plenty of questions that crop up around the process. One of the most common involves teeth. If you want to know what happens to teeth during cremation, I am going to reveal the answers during this article. There are some fascinating answers to go through here.


Teeth May Survive Cremation

I say may because it depends on your teeth’s condition and whether you have had anything done to them. A cremation oven is preheated before the process begins. It can reach temperatures of between 1,400 – 1,800 degrees Fahrenheit.

Teeth are likely to be one of two things left behind when the process has completed.

Bone and teeth can survive cremation, although they will be damaged. Once the cremation chamber cools down, the person in charge of the process takes out the remains. These are going to consist of bone fragments rather than whole bones. Similarly, the teeth may not have survived intact.

Teeth are made from several tissue types. The pulp inside the tooth will not survive cremation and will disappear along with all the other soft tissues of the body. However, there are three other tissue types present as well, and these are:

  • Dentin
  • Enamel
  • Cementum

If cementum sounds strong, it is – it’s about the same strength as bone.

The same applies to dentin.

Enamel is harder still – nothing else in the body is stronger.

So, you can see how and why most parts of your natural teeth stay behind once all the soft tissues of the body have gone.


You Won’t See Teeth When You Receive Remains

This is something I was concerned about many years ago when my father was cremated. Cremation is the usual method chosen by our family members when the time comes (it’s the preferred choice for each person for some reason).

I knew cremation didn’t burn everything to ash, so what would I receive back from the funeral director?

My dad had a healthy sense of curiosity, and I guess I must have inherited it from him. So, I had a look. I know he wouldn’t have minded! I’m sure he would have done the same thing.

The remains (or cremains, as they’re known) aren’t ashes at all – rather, they’re more granular with a gray and white appearance.

That’s not how the remains come out of the cremation chamber though. When the first part of the process completes, the workers grind down the remains further using special machinery, to create the cremains I received.

So, if teeth or bones are left after the heat is reduced, they’ll disappear into small and unrecognizable fragments during the grinding process. I couldn’t see anything recognizable in the cremains.

I didn’t look that closely – just at the top of the contents in the container – but it was clear the contents matched the description I’d read previously.


Gold Crowns or Teeth Can Be Removed First

I’ve mentioned teeth already, but only in relation to real teeth. You may have fillings, crowns, or even gold teeth. These do not behave the same way as real teeth when subjected to cremation.

Lots of people ask whether it is possible to get the gold teeth from a relative who has died. Technically, it is possible, but it is difficult to arrange and can end up costing more than you would receive for the gold in the tooth (or teeth).


A Dentist Must Take Out the Teeth

While funeral directors prepare the body for the funeral and cremation, the job does not extend to removing teeth. A qualified dentist must perform this task. There are no laws in America stating that a dentist cannot remove teeth from a deceased person, so it is possible for this to be done.

However, most dentists are against offering this service. This is not from a legal standpoint but from a personal and considered standpoint. It is a personal decision, so if you wanted those teeth back before the cremation, it could take a while to find someone willing and licensed to do it.

Furthermore, the cost of the average tooth extraction is way higher than the price you’d get for the gold in the tooth. You would also be unable to tell how much gold is in a tooth without further analysis – which again, could push up the price of the process. In short, you would be out of pocket if you took this route.

At best, only about 40% of a gold tooth would actually be gold – and it could be a lot less. Most crowns and fillings consist of an amalgam of assorted materials to give the best outcome. Gold alone would be too soft to work. Alloys are in widespread use, with gold forming just a small part of the overall alloy.

In short, extraction costs along with the task of finding someone to do it would be many times more than the amount received from any gold you gained.


Metal in Teeth Melts During the Cremation

So, if you have any metal in your teeth, what happens to it if you chose cremation after your death? Simple – it melts.

Remember that the oven can reach up to 1,800 degrees Fahrenheit. So, any metal in your body (whether in your teeth or elsewhere as an implant) that has a melting point lower than that is going to do just that.

It does depend on how pure it is though. Pure gold may just about survive as its melting point is 1,945 degrees Fahrenheit. If impurities are present, the gold will melt faster. Assuming the oven reaches 1,800 degrees, 14-carat gold teeth won’t survive. Those made from 24-carat gold may be luckier.


Crowns Are Left Behind with Bone Fragments

Since most parts of the teeth are as tough as bones, they remain behind once the heating is complete. If you have crowns or gold fillings, these may have melted, but either way, they will be left behind with the bone fragments.

In theory, then, you could wait until the cremation is complete and then ask the staff to look for any gold fragments that have been left behind before they move on to the next part of the process – grinding down the remains.

However, we can see that gold may disappear into the other parts of the body that survive the process. The body that goes into the cremation oven does not come out as a complete skeleton, along with a few gold teeth and similar parts sitting neatly among the bones.

You might recognize some parts of bones,  but the marrow inside is gone, along with all the soft tissues. The heat cannot burn bones, but it will crack them. Think of your gold tooth melting and attaching itself to all the bones left behind. No one would be able to find it in that situation.


You Cannot Remove Gold with a Magnet Either

Anything that reacts to a magnet can be removed before the remains are turned into cremains at the final stage. Of course, this does not apply to gold since you cannot pick it up with a magnet.

Therefore, any gold that went into the cremator in the decedent’s mouth would be returned to the family anyway as part of the ashes in the urn.

Anything that does not react to a magnet goes into the machine that pulverizes everything down to create the cremains. So, your loved ones may well get back your gold teeth, just not in the way you might have thought.

So, you can see that teeth are tough cookies. Teeth need to be when you think about all we put them through.

It’s fascinating to see how the cremation process affects the teeth, and how there may be far less of them left afterward than you thought. This holds true regardless of whether you had crowns, gold teeth, or regular ones you were born with.


Writer: Allison Whitehead

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