During a cremation, the body of the deceased is placed within a cremation chamber and ignited until it’s reduced to cremated remains. These are what most people think of as ashes, and they can be put inside an urn or released in a scattering ceremony. While most people have an idea of what to do with cremation ashes, it’s not always clear what happens to all parts of the body during cremation.
Jump ahead to these sections:
- Do Real Teeth Burn During Cremation?
- Do Fake or Gold Teeth Burn During Cremation?
- What Happens If Teeth Survive the Cremation Process?
- Will You Find Teeth in Ashes After Cremation?
- Can Any Other Body Parts or Bones Survive Cremation?
- What Are Other Debunked Myths About Cremation?
One of the most common questions about cremation is what happens to real or fake teeth. This is especially confusing since teeth are made of different types of tissue, including dentin and enamel. If someone has a fake tooth, this might be made of porcelain or even metal. Because of the way cremation works, the results might not always be consistent.
In this guide, we’re pulling back the curtain on the funeral industry to dive into the world of cremation. No matter why you’re interested, we’ll discuss what happens to real or fake teeth during cremation so you can understand the reality of this process.
Do Real Teeth Burn During Cremation?
First, what happens to real teeth during cremation? Do they burn? There are a lot of myths about the cremation process. One common myth is that teeth don’t burn at all, leaving behind bone and tissue fragments. In reality, this is only partially true. During cremation, the chamber reaches up to 1,800 degrees Fahrenheit. The softer parts of the teeth (like the pulp) disappear.
However, the tougher parts of the teeth including the enamel are likely to survive cremation. They are one of the few things left behind after the process is complete. There are four types of tissues teeth are made of, and they all respond differently to heat:
- Pulp: This is soft tissue at the center of your teeth. It’s where nerves, blood vessels, and tissue are kept.
- Dentin: Beneath the enamel and cementum you’ll find dentin. This has hollow tubes or canals that stimulate nerves, causing sensitivity in your teeth to hot and cold.
- Cementum: The hard connective tissue that covers the root of your tooth is the cementum.
- Enamel: Lastly, the enamel is a very hard, calcified tissue that covers the dentin in the crown of your tooth. It has no living cells, and this means it can’t repair damage naturally over time.
Believe it or not, enamel is the hardest substance in your entire body. This is the shiny, white part that surrounds your teeth, and it’s stronger than bone. It’s made of 96% mineral, the highest of any tissue in your body. This is why it’s so resistant to damage—including heat during cremation.
Still, cremation chambers are pretty hot. They have the potential to break down enamel, though not usually completely. It’s likely that a bit of enamel will remain along with other bone fragments. However, the teeth are likely to be tiny, broken, or cracked. Note that this is only the case for real teeth. If the teeth have been modified, replaced, or altered through dental treatment, the same materials don’t apply.
Do Fake or Gold Teeth Burn During Cremation?
Now that you know what happens to real teeth during cremation, what about fake teeth? If someone’s loved one has false teeth, dentures, gold teeth, or so on, the family might choose to have these removed prior to cremation. It’s commonplace for any body modifications including health devices to be removed since they can be recycled, held onto, or disposed of properly.
However, it’s important to note that funeral directors will not remove fake teeth. This is something that has to be handled by a certified dentist. Not all dentists offer this service, so it’s something to plan in advance.
What happens to metal in teeth? If you had a filling, it might have been done with metal, for example. The answer here is simple: it melts. The melting point for metal is far lower than the heat of a cremation chamber. The only metal that will survive is pure gold. Still, it’s rare for fake teeth to be 100% pure gold. Most fake teeth burn mostly or completely throughout the cremation process.
What Happens If Teeth Survive the Cremation Process?
Since you now know that parts of the teeth survive the cremation process, what does this mean for families? It would be alarming to receive cremation remains from a loved one and to find tooth fragments. Whether you choose traditional or direct cremation, the answer is the same. When teeth survive the cremation process, they’re ground down with the remaining fragments.
Ashes are always processed before they’re given to the family. All of the cremation remains are ground together, mixing the fragments into ash. This is what families receive when they pick up their loved one’s ashes from the crematorium.
There is usually a magnet that is used over the ashes after cremation. This removes any remains that are made of metal, like metal fillings or medical materials. These aren’t usually ground down with the remaining fragments. Instead, they’re disposed of properly. The only exception to this is gold which doesn’t respond to magnets. Any gold that remains will be mixed with the final cremated remains in the urn, though it’s usually very fine at this point.
Will You Find Teeth in Ashes After Cremation?
After cremation, you will find teeth in ashes. Still, this usually doesn’t look the same as when the teeth are in your mouth. Heat doesn’t usually burn bone or tooth tissue. However, both will be cracked and distorted. All of these things melt and crack together, so it isn’t likely to resemble normal teeth or skeletons.
Anything left behind is ground up after cremation into cremains. This can be placed into urns for ashes or other memorial products. In short, you will not find teeth in ashes after cremation once the ashes have been returned to you. Crematorium operators are skilled at removing any large pieces, and everything is ground down to fine dust.
Many are surprised to learn that bones are amongst the most resistant tissues in the body. While it is combustible like any organic matter, it takes exposure to high levels of heat for a long time to break down completely. This isn’t an issue for friends and family worried about finding teeth or other fragments in ashes after cremation.
Can Any Other Body Parts or Bones Survive Cremation?
Are there any other body parts that survive cremation? Aside from teeth, large bones are sometimes resistant to burning. This is usually for larger bones like hip bones, but it can happen with any bone in the body. The marrow of the bone completely melts, leaving only the outside bone tissue in its place.
If you had any surgical implants that were made of metal like a hip or knee replacement, this remains to some extent. The metal is removed with a magnet after cremation to prevent it from being ground into the remaining ash. Because some bodies are cremated in caskets, materials from the casket might also be found in the cremation remains.
Ultimately, the elements of the human body that give it so much strength are also what results in it combusting during incineration. Small amounts of salts and other minerals might stay intact, but these will be hard to identify.
What Are Other Debunked Myths About Cremation?
As you can see, the idea that teeth remain perfectly intact after cremation is nothing but a myth. While it’s true teeth are tough, they aren’t strong enough to resist combusting completely throughout the cremation process. The same is true even for fake teeth and implants.
With that in mind, are there other myths about cremation that we can debunk? Here are a few you’ve probably heard of before that are worth clarifying once and for all:
- Ashes all look the same: In reality, cremated remains look different depending on a number of factors. They usually look like coarse sand, and they can have more or fewer fragments. The color varies from off-white to gray.
- Human remains are mixed: There’s a common myth that cremated remains are often mixed between multiple people. If that was true, how do you know whose ashes are really in your urn? According to cremation law, this isn’t allowed at all. Crematoriums only cremate one individual in each chamber unless authorized otherwise.
- Cremation is eco-friendly: In today’s world, it’s important to consider the environmental impact of your choices even after death. While cremation is more sustainable than most traditional types of burial, it’s still not a clean way to dispose of the dead.
- You have to purchase an urn from the funeral home: Last but not least, there’s often an expectation that you have to buy an urn for the ashes from your funeral home. There are never any rules about this. You can buy an urn online, make one yourself, or skip one altogether.
Cremation: Don’t Bite Off More Than You Can Chew
Ultimately, cremation is a respectful, trusted way to lay deceased loved ones to rest. No matter your wishes, you can feel confident choosing cremation for yourself or a loved one. Still, it’s helpful to understand how cremation works and what you can expect.
If you’ve ever wondered what happens to teeth during cremation, now you know. The reality is much less confusing than it sounds! With teeth amongst the strongest bones in the body, the human body is truly astounding.
- “The Anatomy of a Tooth.” Mouth Healthy. MouthHealthy.org.