It’s not the tooth fairy that takes your teeth at the dentist’s office.
While the goal of dental health care is to keep your pearly whites intact, some conditions require that a tooth come out, and no, it’s not the Tooth Fairy that comes to take them away.
According to the CDC, extracted teeth that will be discarded are “…subject to the containerization and labeling provisions of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) Bloodborne Pathogen Standard.” This means that extracted teeth are considered “potentially hazardous” and must be treated as such.
Of course, this isn’t for every state in the U.S. In North Dakota, extracted teeth are considered regulated medical waste, whereas in Pennsylvania, the regulated medical waste designation doesn’t apply.
According to the OSHA Bloodborne Pathogen Standard, extracted teeth should be placed in a hazardous waste container. After that, the teeth are normally picked up by a medical waste management company that takes them and then incinerates them with other biomedical waste. However, if the tooth in question contains an amalgam filling, then this changes how it should be disposed.
Amalgam cannot be incinerated because it contains mercury, and incineration means mercury is disposed of in the air, thus posing a health risk. Extracted teeth containing amalgam must be sent to a specialized recycling center that can remove the amalgam before disposing of the teeth.
Of course, not all extracted teeth need to be disposed of. Some teeth end up being donated to universities so that they may be used by dental students for study. Some patients don’t want their teeth disposed of nor donated, rather kept for personal reasons. Although some dentists don’t agree with this practice, there are no regulations prohibiting a dentist from giving patients back their teeth following extractions. The American Dental Association, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) all give this a green light.
The bottom line is, because extracted teeth may have tiny amounts of blood, saliva, or tissue residue on them, they are potentially infectious materials. Dental offices pay medical waste management companies like Red Bags to pick up the containers and incinerate the teeth along with other biomedical waste.
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