Cleaning Elk Molar Ivory

A client just picked up a pair of earrings of elk molar ivory set in
engraved sterling silver. I was at a loss when he asked what he
should do to clean the ivory. What effect if any will jewelry
cleaners containing ammonia have on the ivory? What precautions in
general need to be taken with ivory? I’m assuming here that elk
ivory isn’t that much different from other ivories. Any help on this
will be appreciated.

Dick Sherer


I just use soap and water to clean my elk ivory.


I was at a loss when he asked what he should do to clean the ivory. 

I do quite a bit of elk tooth jewelry. First, by cleaning, what do
you mean exactly? If it’s just general grunge, put it an ultrasonic.
If it’s staining, tell your client he needs to think carefully before
removing the staining on the “eye” at the bottom (top?), because
that’s considered to be highly desirable. If there’s some staining on
the side of the teeth the client finds objectionable, a little Zam on
a musling buff will clean it up and bring up a high polish. Never
polish the teeth before you set them. They’re slippery little buggers
if they’re polished first, and you’ll spend more time lookig for them
than setting them. Never put the teeth in ammonia, bleach, or other
strong cleaners. Can cause cracks, or those cracks already present
can open up further. Cow teeth have no ivory and are rounder, and
very fragile. Their calcium goes into making babies.

Katherine in Wyoming

Being up here in the Adirondacks of New York, I get a LOT of teeth
to mount as “trophy” jewelry. I use lots of pumice and dental drill
bits to scour the remaining dead tissue encrusted around them. Have
good ventilation as it smells…

Judy Shaw, GJG
Jasco Minerals
North River, NY

When I was a kid (in the 40’s) elk tooth items were quite popular,
especially with members of the Elks Club. I scared up a few to mount
for family friends. I think I actually have a few left somewhere.

The usual trick was to polish the tooth’s exposed surface with red
rouge, then soak the whole tooth for a few days in tobacco juice
(you don’t have to chew the tobacco, just steep it in a little
water). The tobacco stained the tooth bringing out the color and
pattern of the worn occlusive surface. The tooth was then mounted as
you wished.

Engraved silver is engraved silver and a tooth is a tooth. Your
friend can sure do what he wishes but maybe a good brushing with
Colgate would do the trick just fine!

Best regards,
Dr. Mac

Sorry, can’t resist…have you tried tooth paste? They are teeth. I
use hand/dish soap with a tooth brush all time. One of those 3 should
do the trick ( and…it made my husband laugh!)

Marianne Hunter

I have been handed elk ivory (commonly called whistler teeth in our
area, they are not molars) that were freshly “harvested” with chunks
of meat still hanging on them. Gross! At first, I sat and picked it
off with a sharp knife but realized it would loosen if I boiled it.
It works great. It doesn’t take away the patina of age, the teeth
with dark circles as Katherine said are the very most valuable ones
so be very careful not to remove the brown color. A friend once was
so proud she had removed all those “ugly brown marks” by soaking her
husband’s elk teeth in bleach…they were so nice and white now.
Boiling will loosen the junk with no struggle but not remove any


Thanks for the I will pass on what is applicable to my
client. One comment that came as an email but wasn’t on Orchid was
to use Polident of Effordent.

Dick Sherer