Precious-metal scrap can boost your bottom line!

June 1, 1996
You owe it to yourself to have precious metal refined say dentists who enjoy significant settlements.

You owe it to yourself to have precious metal refined say dentists who enjoy significant settlements.

Gary Zavatkay

A recent sampling of dentists around the country shows that not all of them are taking advantage of refining services to handle their gold, silver, platinum and palladium scrap. Many dentists are missing an opportunity to maximize their returns and reap the benefits of turning in their precious-metal scrap for cash, gold coins or credits from refiners.

How much do you know about the precious-metal-scrap market? Do you realize the impact it can have on your profit line?

Many dentists point out that precious-metal scrap, particularly gold, is not worth as much as it was 10 or 15 years ago. True, but at the same time, palladium alloys have come into wider use (replacing higher gold alloys in many cases) and have increased in price.

Dr. Thomas B. Cameron, a metallurgist with The J. M. Ney Company, says that many dentists choose palladium alloys because they are less expensive than gold (nearly one-half the cost) and offer important properties, such as greater strength, lower weight and less density.

"Some dentists are using palladium because it is ideal for larger restorations-and palladium offers a good return from refiners," he says. "It is the only precious metal that actually has increased in value."

Whether you have a supply of gold or palladium scrap, or other precious metals, you owe it to yourself to have it refined, according to dentists who enjoy their settlements once or twice a year.

A dentist in Virginia who specializes in restorations always asks patients if they want the scrap. If not, he collects it for refining. This year`s total: nearly $5,500.

"I don`t give it much thought on a day-to-day basis, but I have to admit that it`s important to me," he says. "Years ago, when the gold content was higher, old bridges and crowns were worth even more and I was more motivated to act. But there`s nothing wrong with a check for $5,500 every so often."

A dentist in Texas, who has been practicing for nearly 30 years, regards precious-metal scrap as a way to recoup some of his losses. He has his own laboratory with two technicians and says that scrap is an important asset. It`s not making money, he says, but recouping losses.

"Scrap deserves close scrutiny. There`s a fair amount of metal in every bridge-you don`t want to just toss it into a drawer and forget about it. Collectively, it adds up."

Some dentists admit that they`re leery of handing over their precious-metal scrap to a refiner. "It`s hard to find someone you can trust, and it`s such an intangible,` says one dentist, who relates he had a bad experience with a refiner years ago and has been hoarding scrap ever since.

But holding onto precious-metal scrap is not the wisest thing to do. A Connecticut dentist says that his office has been robbed twice-and both times his drawer of precious-metal scrap was stolen.

A Michigan practitioner, who has been in business for 35 years and specializes in restorations, is seeing many of his early patients again for further restorative work.

"We`re dealing with solid gold and I know the value of this material," he says. "If I don`t send gold to a refiner, I know that it`ll just disappear. This way, I turn it in several times a year for gold coins and distribute them to my grandchildren. We`re talking about some serious money."

Indeed, turning in scrap for cash or coins adds up. Dentists who do it regularly enjoy the settlements, which can be invested, put back into the practice, used for employee bonuses-or given to grandchildren. Whatever the choice, bottom-line results are clear: precious-metal scrap helps dentists to maximize their cost-effectiveness and recoup some of their losses. For dentists who have their own laboratories, or whose practices focus on restorations, scrap recovery is critical. Not sending precious-metal scrap to a refiner is just plain foolish, says one dentist who regularly has his scrap refined.

What kind of returns are we talking about?

- A general practitioner in Chicago says that he sends his precious-metal scrap to a refiner whenever he feels the need for some extra cash. Last year, that extra cash paid for vacation airline tickets. It was like getting a free vacation, he says.

- A Virginia dentist, who turns in scrap once a year, says, "It`s a hidden windfall-I spend it fast!"

- Another dentist in Texas looks forward to cashing in his precious-metal scrap-the check covers Christmas presents every year.

A dentist in Connecticut turned in a large lot of precious-metal scrap before retiring a few months ago. His check for more than $5,000 was a nice treat, he says, and will come in handy when he takes a vacation soon. He admits, however, that it did took time to find a refiner that he could trust.

"People who claimed to be reputable would knock on the door every few months and ask for scrap, but I had to question their integrity," he says. "It`s just plain common sense to do some research and find a refiner with a good track record who will give you a fair return."

Indeed, working with a reputable refiner is critical when you`re talking about scrap recovery. How should you choose a refiner?

1. Deal with an established, reputable company and ask questions.

2. Does the company send a confirmation for each scrap lot?

3. What does the company charge for refining services? Are there any hidden charges that will appear later?

4. Will the refiner perform individual assays on your scrap, utilizing state-of-the-art technologies to ensure precise and accurate settlements?

5. Will the refiner give you a certificate of assay to verify the percentages of gold, silver, platinum and palladium?

6. Does the refiner cultivate its customers and keep track of a dentist`s scrap history?

7. Does the refiner monitor trends and buying patterns for each individual dental customer?

8. Are settlements handled promptly?

9.Can you choose your method of settlement to best satisfy your needs?

Get the answers to these questions and you`re well on your way to choosing a refiner who could become an asset to your business.

Once you`ve chosen a reputable refiner, call and ask for specific information on handling, shipping and insurance. Give the refiner your choice of settlement and ask when you can expect to receive it.

While many dentists talk about the values of precious-metal scrap, others do not have systems in place to collect it. It`s simple to gather old crowns and bridges. Dentists who have their own laboratories should have methods to retrieve as much precious-metal scrap as possible. Vacuums, suction units, electric handpieces and other techniques and equipment maximize the collection of precious-metal scrap.

Every bit of precious-metal scrap should be collected and refined because it`s valuable. A dentist in Illinois, who collects scrap from periodic extractions, sent his scrap to a refiner-his check totalled more than $2,000. "It doesn`t take any effort. Why not have it refined?"

What happens to precious-metal scrap after you send it to a refiner? If you can separate solids from grindings, sweeps, polishings, etc., it`s easier for you to keep track of what you have sent in for refining-and it`s easier for the refiner to process your materials.

All lots should be identified and controlled individually and your refiner should send you a written confirmation promptly. Lots then should be separated and weighed according to material classification. Each lot then is prepared for melt and a homogeneous sample is taken.

Two separate fire assays should be performed on each lot to assure that the sample was, indeed, homogeneous. Most refiners will utilize the most advanced technologies available, preferably the ICAP (inductively-coupled argon plasma spectrometer), calibrated to precious standards to assure complete accuracy. This state-of-the-art equipment enhances the refiner`s ability to reclaim, refine and return the highest yield possible on your precious-metal scrap.

The author is refining manager at The J.M. Ney Company, which is one of the oldest full-service dental-products suppliers and refiners in the United States

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