Originally created 02/13/98

Law biting teeth makers



One look at Nancy Albert's gap-toothed creations would convince you she is not making dentures. It's when she came out with a nice-looking model of her novelty teeth that the state dental board tried to clamp down.

Ironically, it's a law passed by her husband, former Georgia state Sen. Frank Albert, that the board is using to try and shut her down, she said.

The Alberts, owners of the novelty teeth company Dr. Bukk in Columbia County, said the Georgia Board of Dentistry will discuss their case today and possibly decide whether to take action against the company for allegedly practicing dentistry without a license.

The board could ask for a cease-and-desist order against the company and fine the Alberts thousands per day.

Even for the novelty business, this is a new one, Mrs. Albert said.

"I guess I got my nose under their tent by making some pretty teeth," Mrs. Albert said of the dental industry.

It all began when Mrs. Albert would wear her own snaggletoothed novelty teeth, which fit over the wearer's own teeth and are startlingly realistic, out to go shopping.

While she secretly laughed at the odd stares, she also thought, "Good Lord, I'd hate to be stuck with an ugly-looking mouth."

So she worked on creating Imakos, nice pearly whites that can be slipped over bad teeth. She thought of it as more of a beauty parlor item, and in fact, that's where she went to test-market them.

"You know, your hair looks good, you're going to a party, you want nice teeth," she said. Within weeks of advertising last summer, an investigator from the Georgia Secretary of State's Office showed up at one of the salons and tried to buy a pair.

The salon refused because it needed to adjust the teeth once on, and it referred him to Dr. Bukk, where he spoke with the Alberts. Apparently, that adjusting is also forbidden, Mrs. Albert said.

"He told us it was against the law to put your finger in someone's mouth," Mrs. Albert said.

The secretary of state's office confirmed the investigation but is not allowed to comment further.

William Holden, a semi-retired Columbia County dentist who acts as a consultant for the board, also said he could not discuss the case.

At an informal hearing in December before the board, the Alberts found out it was no laughing matter.

"They indicated, if they wanted, they could shut down my entire business," Mrs. Albert said. "They think people will delay treatment (of dental problems) or avoid taking the step of having all of the rest of their teeth extracted to get dentures."

This is what Mr. Albert feared in 1992, when he sponsored the bill that is now being used against them, he said.

The bill was aimed at curbing denturists, who were not dentists but were making and selling dentures, Mr. Albert said.

He asked dentists, including Dr. Holden, if he needed to add language to protect novelty teeth makers and was told the board would never bother them.

Now, Mr. Albert believes the investigation is just dentists protecting their turf.

"They didn't like the fact that we make more money than any dentist ever thought about making," Mr. Albert said. Last year, the company sold 25,000 sets of the gag teeth, which retail for around $40.

Ironically, about 10 percent of their business is from dentists, Mrs. Albert said.

"They like to wear 'em around the office, tell patients this is what your teeth will look like if you don't take care of 'em," Mrs. Albert said.

At the heart of the case is also a feud between the Alberts and Dr. Holden over past dealings and perhaps jealousy over their success, Mr. Albert said.

"It really boils down to a personality conflict between us," Mr. Albert said.

But Dr. Holden vehemently denies there is any bad blood, saying he always supported the former senator when he ran, and that he always keeps personal feelings out of his work for the board.

"If they come in (with a complaint) on my relative, I have to handle everything properly," he said. "I don't make the complaints, and I didn't make this one."

Because nearly all of their business is mail order, the Alberts say the state's investigation is actually a hollow threat.

"If they did (shut down the business) we'd move our operation to another state," Mr. Albert said.

This time, the Alberts say, the state has bitten off more than it can chew.

"Somebody's going to end up with some egg on their face but it's not going to be us," Mr. Albert said.