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Dentists convert old tooth fillings into 1.9 million meals

March 3, 2019

LIVINGSTON, Mich. (AP) — A dozen dentists in Livingston County hoard piles of old gold crowns. They collect them, and other precious metals, from patients’ mouths throughout the year with a charitable purpose in mind.

For more than a decade, Genoa Township dentist Dr. Fredric Bonine and other area dentists have been taking metals from extractions, smelting them down and donating the proceeds to supply free meals to county residents in need of food assistance.

“I’m a gold miner,” Bonine, who founded charitable program Gold for Food in 1996, said to the Livingston Daily Press and Argus. “It’s gross in a way, but it’s a quirky program that does good things.”

Participating dentists have turned gold, silver, platinum and palladium extracted from their patients’ mouths into about 1.9 million meals.

Since the program’s inception, about $316,750 has been donated to Gleaners Community Food Bank of Southeastern Michigan. All of those funds have been used to support food assistance programs in the county.

“Instead of sending it home with you to put that old crown in your underwear drawer or going to a gold (buyer) and maybe getting skimmed or scammed, this just seemed like a good way to support the community,” Bonine said.

The dentists have contributed about half of those funds, and Gleaners has partnered with businesses that match their donations.

Around Christmas time, 12 participating dentists donated about $12,367, which Kroger Co.’s Zero Hunger, Zero Waste program matched bringing the annual donation to about $24,734.

“That donation provided over 74,000 meals, which is huge, especially in the month of December and into part of January when families are under more pressure with bills going up and the holidays,” Gleaners Director of Food Secure Livingston Bridget Brown said.

Brown said Gleaners hands out about 140,000 meals a month to people in Livingston County. The organization runs mobile food pantries and supplies students at some area schools with weekend meals, among other programs. And about 850 families a month visit the organization’s Shared Harvest Pantry in Genoa Township.

“Dr. Bonine is a super dynamic person and we’re just grateful that he and his staff lead this effort when they don’t have to,” Brown said.

Participating dentists ask patients if they would like to donate old fillings and dental appliances when they are in the dental chair, and many do, Bonine said.

“We also have people bring in old fillings and drop them off,” he said.

Once a year, the dentists gather everything up and send it off to Leetsdale, Pa.-based precious metal refinery Atlantic Precious Metal Resources. The metals are smelted there.

Bonine said he wishes more dentists would join in.

“I send about 70 to 100 letters a year to dentists, and one can only imagine what could happen if they all did it,” he said. “Some dentists take it (precious metals) and factor it into their overhead and turn it into a revenue source but for being the wealthiest county in the state, we still have a population who lives hand-to-mouth with no assets, no safety net.”

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Information from: Livingston Daily Press & Argus, http://www.livingstondaily.com