Fukuoka Dentist Suspected of Stealing Used Silver Teeth from Hospital for Money; Made Tens of Millions of Yen in Sales

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Silver teeth containing gold and other rare metals before use at a dental clinic in Fukuoka City

FUKUOKA — A 38-year-old dentist was arrested in April on suspicion of stealing a silver tooth from Kyushu University Hospital in Fukuoka City with the aim of exchanging it for cash.

According to the Fukuoka prefectural police, the man told investigators that he had stolen mainly used silver teeth from the hospital more than 100 times over a period of about 10 years and exchanged them for cash, earning about \30 million. The suspect, who had previously worked for the hospital, was in a position to be able to freely enter and exit the hospital with his ID card for training purposes.

Police said that the man had repeatedly stolen used silver teeth for about 10 years while working at the hospital. However, the hospital did not notice the thefts because the teeth were no longer in use. However, he was arrested on April 2 on suspicion of stealing an unused silver tooth (about 2.5 grams) from the same hospital on the night of Aug. 13, 2023. The hospital noticed that the tooth was missing because he targeted new items, unlike in the past.

According to dentists, disposal of used silver teeth is usually left up to the clinic where patients were treated, and they are often sold to recycling companies. But they are not stored particularly carefully.

However, some say that used silver teeth are an extremely valuable resource. To increase strength and durability, silver teeth are made by mixing expensive gold and palladium, a rare metal used in smartphones, and the typical content is 40% to 50% silver, 12% gold and 20% palladium, according to a dentist.

While the market price of silver is around ¥150 per gram, the price of gold-silver-palladium alloys is rising. According to the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry, the official price of the alloy used for silver teeth was ¥619 per gram in April 2010, it rose to ¥3,715 in July 2022 and stood at ¥2,909 as of April this year. This appears to be due to the weakening yen and a supply shortage caused by the invasion of Ukraine by Russia, a major producer of palladium.