I Buy Human Teeth: 4 Realities Of A Weird Black Market
Where do your teeth go after they've been pulled out of your screaming skull by a sadist with a light on his forehead? As unbelievable as it may seem, no one at Cracked ever thought to ask that question. It wasn't until the source for this article came forward that we learned about the shady underground business which collects our unwanted teeth and mines them for literal gold. And now we've got an entirely new career path! Here's what we're in for:
Surprise! Trafficking In Human Teeth Can Be Terrifying
I remember the exact moment when I knew I needed a new job. I was standing behind a dumpster in a dark alley, holding a tiny drug dealer scale in one hand and $1000 in the other. But I wasn't preparing to buy a Scarface amount of cocaine -- I was preparing to buy human teeth.
"This is crack."
"Shit, wrong bag. They all look alike."
These weren't "clean" teeth, by the way. There were still chunks of person still on them. Chunks.
No, I'm not a psychopath trying to forge my very own tooth-crown so I can rule over The Land of Mouths with an iron fist. This is a legitimate business. See, dentists remove teeth from patients on a semi-regular basis. Some of those teeth have crowns and bridges that contain gold, platinum, and/or palladium. Those are called PFMs -- porcelain fused to metal. Most dentists send their waste teeth directly to refineries, like these guys:
Never underestimate the lengths the "cash for gold" industry will go to.
But a lot of office administrators and dental assistants either don't know about the refineries or want to make a quick buck all for themselves -- hence the clandestine meetings in parking garages and alleys. So for about a month, it was my job to trawl the dental offices of Los Angeles County in search of jars of teeth. Once I'd picked out the ones to buy, I'd take them back to my boss, who'd dump them in a Ziploc bag and ship them off to a refinery himself. I was essentially the middleman in a cash-for-body-parts business.
When I first signed up, I was warned about these clandestine pick-ups. They said, "If the dental assistants call and ask you to meet them someplace other than the dentist's office, don't be scared ..."
"Just be confident, and make sure you're packing a piece."
Except I was scared, because I had no idea who these people were, save for that they had no problem harvesting human teeth, and were about to meet me in a discreet location while I held a fistful of cash. I don't know what about that scenario was supposed to put me at ease ...
It Can Be A Big-Money Business With A Lot Of Competition
Even if there was only a little speck of gold on the tip of a repulsive tooth, we'd pay the dental assistants for the combined weight of both. I got the same commission regardless of whether it was a PFM or gold. Sometimes I'd walk out with ten grams, other times it would be 600 grams. The ten-gram paydays kind of sucked, but those 600-gram paydays were pretty sweet. Which is why I wasn't the only one doing this.
That's right. There was tooth fairy turf.
Don't be fooled by the name. Cut in on her turf and she'll leave tiny horse heads under your pillow.
I could usually tell when I was trespassing on someone else's turf -- in one case, the guy actually put a glamour shot of his face on the lid of the dentist's tooth jar -- but it didn't stop me. It's a cutthroat business, and there's no such thing as loyalty. Often, the assistants were reluctant to sell to someone they'd never met before, so they'd lie and say that they didn't have any teeth. I'd keep pushing. If I could figure out who their regular tooth fairy was, I'd confidently state that he was underselling them, and then I'd offer to help.
But just because I knew how much a jar of teeth was worth doesn't mean the people selling me those teeth did. Sure, I'd always claim our prices were better, but that was almost never true. In fact, the more I did the job, the clearer it became that our prices were straight-up terrible. If these people would ship the teeth directly to a refinery, they'd make so, so much more. Gold is worth $37 bucks a gram. We paid considerably less.
"Oh wait, this gold expired last week. Best I can do is $3.75."
The tooth boss even specifically instructed me to only focus on dental offices in low-income neighborhoods. He was betting that they'd be more likely to jump for our cash upfront than to ship the teeth off and wait several weeks for a bigger return. Unfortunately, he was right.
When I finally asked him how our prices compared to other companies in the same line of work, he put it this way: "The question isn't, 'Are our prices better?' It's, 'Do you believe our prices are better?'"
I quit less than a week after that exchange.
Dentists Hate Us With A Passion
I've had dentists yell at me and call me a vulture. I've been chased out of offices on more than one occasion. It was only the assistants who agreed to sell to me, because they didn't know any better and most dentists usually have too much on their plates to focus on every little thing happening in the office. Usually, but not always. Once, as I was finishing up weighing out some teeth with an assistant, the dentist walked by, doubled back around and asked, "Who is this? Are they a patient?"
I said, "I'm just here to collect dental scraps."
Yup, nothing out the ordinary here.
He started frothing at the mouth and screaming about how I was stealing money from his pocket. Which was partially true. But don't feel too bad for him. He offered to sell to me anyway if I'd agree to have a drink with him. He was wearing a wedding band.
"It's ten teeth's worth of gold. That's how I roll."
A little more ammo to add to your irrational anti-dentite stance.
The Social Life Of A Tooth Fairy Is Less Than Ideal
Pulled teeth aren't only gross to look at -- they stink. Especially in mass. Remember, there's a lot of flesh attached to some of them, and it is not at all preserved. They smell like little jars of putrid smoker's breath. I had to stop keeping the jars in my car because the hot sun would basically bake them, and it smelled like I had a corpse in my trunk. I settled for storing them in my bathroom, because I didn't know what else to do.
Put up or shut up time, Febreze.
One night, I had a gentleman caller come over unexpectedly, and I forgot about the jars of teeth. He went to use the toilet. When he came out, he calmly asked, "Why do you have human teeth in your house?"
I explained the job to him, and he seemed remarkably fine with it. He was either relieved that I wasn't a serial killer, or perhaps happy that if he was about to be chopped into little pieces, at least his murderer was a convincing liar.
Nobody wants to get ganked by a bumbling butcher.
But then again, it's not like the truth -- that I was making a living buying and selling parts of human beings for an underground grey market that preyed upon the poor and ignorant -- was a whole lot sexier.
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For more insider perspectives, check out 5 Horrific Things You Learn Preserving Brains for a Living and 5 Awful Realities Of Transporting Human Corpses For A Job.
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