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Tooth Will Tell

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

"Swartzendruber was unable to refute at the hearing the clear implication that these results regarding [Huggins's] wife were actually obtained some two years prior to the [1990] research," Connick wrote.

As a result, despite Swartzendruber's expert testimony in favor of Huggins at the hearing, the judge paid little attention to the dean in her final decision. "Although Swartzendruber's overall qualifications and credentials are impressive, his credibility in relation to the issue of dental amalgam is significantly affected by his close association with [Huggins]," Connick concluded.

But as recently as two weeks ago, Swartzendruber insisted that his past work with Huggins would have no effect on the science that was to be done with the Adolph Coors Foundation grant. He'd been unfairly tarred by the state's lawyers simply for his association with Huggins, he said. "This was about my credibility, not my research," he explained, adding that "scientific questions shouldn't be answered in court."

Such assurances didn't satisfy Carol Ann Brown, the Colorado Springs dentist. Ever since she provided expert testimony against Huggins at Bailey's malpractice trial, Brown has made it her business to keep an eye on Huggins.

In several letters to university administrators through March and into the beginning of April, Brown complained that, given their past association, Swartzendruber and Huggins would never generate sound science. She also pointed out that the Coors study, which started several months ago, was never approved by the university's Review Board for the Use of Human Subjects--a serious breach of research protocol.

Three weeks ago the university checked, and found that Brown was correct: The Coors study had never gone to the human subjects committee. Although officials explained that it had been an administrative oversight, they also immediately halted the project until the committee could review the study.

And by the middle of this month, Swartzendruber was beginning to minimize Huggins's role in the Coors project. Although a November 1995 UCCS press release stated that "a local dentist, Dr. Hal Huggins, who has monitored blood chemistry changes in mercury-reactive patients for 22 years, will perform the dental services," Swartzendruber told Westword that all that had changed. Huggins, he said, would simply consult on the project, although his labs still would be used to conduct some of the tests. "This study," he said, "will be qualitative and objective."

But as of last week, any study involving Hal Huggins--objective or otherwise--will have to be done elsewhere. "What we've done is get the university out of being the middle man between Coors and Huggins," Swartzendruber explains. "There were some fundamental problems such that I decided the university was best left out of the study." He adds that the Adolph Coors Foundation will pay for the work already completed and that the remainder of the money will be returned to the foundation.

My biggest problem right now," says Hal Huggins, "is that I have quite a number of offers to sort through."

At his office, he'd just entertained producers from Dateline: NBC, which is planning a story on the controversial-dentist-who-insists-your-mouth-is-toxic. The week before it was reporters from ABC, and before that it was another NBC affiliate. Everybody, it seems, suddenly wants to know more about Hal Huggins.

Even though he closed his dental practice last summer, Huggins says he still doesn't have enough time to complete the projects that are flowing his way. And he recently signed on to write a new book. "It's going to be called Uninformed Consent," he says. "It's going to be about the dangers of other dental materials, not just mercury. Practically all the other materials used in dentistry are harmful in one way or another."

The state's hearing didn't slow him a bit. "A kangaroo court," Huggins says. "The things that were put up by our side were thrown out as a matter of course. They twisted everything. The American Dental Association controls the state board, and the state board controls the attorney general's office.

"The ADA tried to stop me because I was finding out too many things," he adds. "But they tried too late. Dentists used to place 1 million mercury amalgam fillings every day. But as a result of our work, we've got it down to one half-million."

In fact, he concludes, even though their efforts cost him more than $700,000 in legal fees, Judge Connick and the Colorado Board of Dental Examiners may have done the world a favor.

"Think about it," suggests Dr. Huggins. "If they take my license away, how much control over me can they have? The dental board may think they're controlling my future. But they're not.

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