Tooth Will Tell

The state wants to yank his license. But dentist Hal Huggins keeps mouthing off.

Although Huggins says he has endured numerous threats and insults from other dentists throughout his career, his thriving practice received its first real jolt in late 1994, when Huggins and an assistant were sued for malpractice. Filing the suit was Diane Bailey, who'd taken advantage of her then-husband's employee detoxification discount at the Huggins Center.

"I had not had any health or dental problems until I went there," she recalls. "Now I've spent the past three years trying to correct my health and dental problems."

By the time her treatment at the Huggins Center was complete, Diane Bailey had had five teeth pulled. Some of them were extracted to get rid of the amalgam fillings; others were yanked because they'd been drilled out for root canals. (Over the years, Huggins has come to believe that root canals are dangerously incomplete, and he frequently pulls teeth that have received that treatment.)

In the missing teeth's place, Bailey says she received bridgework that quickly fell apart. But when she returned for repairs, Huggins wanted to charge her more money.

In November 1995 a jury awarded Diane Bailey $159,000. Huggins is appealing the verdict; he says Bailey bore a grudge because she'd made unrequited sexual advances toward his assistant--although Huggins admits he never brought that up at the trial.

Despite her dental problems, Bailey concedes that Huggins has certain skills. "He's got a very charismatic personality," she says. "He really makes you believe in what he believes in, because he himself believes in it so strongly."

The Colorado Attorney General's office had been preparing its own case against Huggins since early 1995. On November 27, eleven days after the Bailey verdict, the state began presenting its evidence to Judge Connick.

The administrative hearing lasted four weeks and included testimony from dozens of dentists and scientists, as well as more than one hundred exhibits. To make its case, the AG's office had rounded up eight patients who, in complaints to the state dental board, contended they had been mistreated by Huggins. The state's lawyers described the dentist's work as "a sham, illusory and without scientific basis." Huggins retorted that his was a lone voice of truth willing to speak out against a medical establishment with too much of a financial interest in amalgam fillings to admit the mercury composites were dangerous.

After sorting through the evidence, Connick issued her decision February 29. Huggins "essentially says 'Trust me' to the dental profession and the public but provides no reasonable basis upon which he should be trusted.

"Given his steadfast and longstanding commitment to his theories in the face of substantial reasoned evidence to the contrary," she concluded, "it is evident that nothing will stop [Huggins] from practicing the treatments he has developed short of revocation of his license to practice dentistry."

Huggins still has his believers. Some of them are very influential. "My wife was seriously ill with chronic fatigue syndrome," begins Jeff Coors, president of Coors's ACX Technologies. "We had tried most conventional medical things, and nothing was working. We found out through a friend of a friend that a guy in Colorado Springs believed that there was a connection between mercury fillings and her problem. So we went there and met with Dr. Huggins. And he convinced me that there was something to what he was saying."

Soon after that, Jeff's wife, Lis, began treatment. She started to improve almost immediately. "We started seeing very positive results in two to three months. Now it's so much better that it's hard to believe," he says.

"I was so pleased with what Dr. Huggins did, I said, 'How can we help you?' And he said, 'Would you fund a research foundation?'" So Jeff approached the family's philanthropic arm, the Adolph Coors Foundation, and requested a grant.

Jeff concedes that it was an unusual request for the foundation, which spends most of its money on education and community projects. But it was not the first time the foundation's trustees had listened to a family member plead for money to support out-of-the-ordinary medical treatments.

Three years ago, Bill Coors discovered that his eyes were losing their ability to see colors. After speaking to his friend Chuck Stevinson, the late car and real estate magnate, he began seeing Stevinson's Yugoslavian physician, Rajko Medenica. Although Medenica's unorthodox treatments of boxer Muhammad Ali and patients in South Carolina had earned him the scorn of much of the medical community, he found a firm believer in Bill Coors.

In 1993 the senior Coors asked the Adolph Coors Foundation to help him launch a research organization dedicated to the study of alternative treatments for immunological disorders, Medenica's specialty. State records show that Coors's new nonprofit, the Adolph Coors Medical Research Foundation, received nearly $1 million from the Adolph Coors Foundation in 1994. But the research foundation fell into dormancy after Medenica was jailed in Switzerland on fraud charges last summer ("A Crumbling Foundation," December 20, 1995).

Still, when Jeff Coors presented the foundation with the idea of funding a mercury-toxicity study, its board of trustees was willing to listen. Swayed by the emotional story of Lis Coors, the board ponied up. "They were very sympathetic," recalls Jeff.

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