Maurice Tatlock has been making teeth for more than 50 years

August 06, 2008 12:00 am
Maury Tatlock waits for a plaster mix to set in his lab before he moves on to the next stage. After 54 years, the 82-year-old denturist is still involved in all of the 20 to 30 steps in the denturing process. When he retires, he will hand over his business, Elkhorn Dentures, to his son, Curtis. (Baker City Herald/S. John Collins).
Maury Tatlock waits for a plaster mix to set in his lab before he moves on to the next stage. After 54 years, the 82-year-old denturist is still involved in all of the 20 to 30 steps in the denturing process. When he retires, he will hand over his business, Elkhorn Dentures, to his son, Curtis. (Baker City Herald/S. John Collins).

By TALIA SCHMIDT

Baker City Herald

In a world full of bank robberies, domestic violence, crooks and criminals, it's important to remember there are still a few Good Samaritans out there.

These unsung heroes come in all shapes and sizes — even 82-year-old denturists.

Maurice Tatlock — "Maury," as he's better known around town — has made dentures in Baker City for more than half a century.

After 54 years in business, Tatlock still makes about 15 sets of dentures a month. He'll celebrate the 55th anniversary of opening his own commercial lab, Elkhorn Dentures, this month.

"August 9," said Tatlock. "And I didn't know if it'd last till Sept. 9."

Born in Rock Springs, Wyo., Tatlock began a career in dentistry early on. He grew up in Colorado and attended high school in Twin Falls, Idaho.

When he was a sophomore in high school, Tatlock worked as a delivery boy for the dental shop next door.

After he graduated, he entered the Navy in Rhode Island where he stayed for two and a half years.

Shortly after, Tatlock came back to Idaho where he worked at the dental lab until his boss suggested he open his own practice. When the boss informed him of the need for an office in Baker City, Tatlock seized the opportunity.

Ready to embark on a journey, the 27-year-old moved to Baker, borrowed $400 from his mother and opened his own denturist business.

He's been here ever since.

Kim Stricker has worked at the front office, taking impressions and working as a lab technician, for the past three years.

"He's got the biggest heart," Stricker said.

Stricker, a Baker City native, said Tatlock's reputation precedes him.

"People come from out of state because he makes such beautiful dentures," said Stricker, who's worked for several dentists in the past.

"We just had someone in here from Portland, another from Iowa," Stricker said. "It's all about the reputation. I've worked in dentists' offices for 25 years and I've never seen the consistency these guys put out."

According to the Web site US Denturists, nearly 40 million people in the United States wear dentures.

While that number is rapidly rising, however, the number of competent denture practitioners is decreasing, the Web site reports.

Tatlock and his family are skewing that statistic, adding a crew of dedicated denturists to the population.

His entire family practices, and each of his sons has his own denturist business.

His son Kevin makes dentures in Ontario, while his stepson Dale works making dentures in La Grande.

"Dad trained 'em up right," Stricker said of the Tatlock boys.

His son Curtis, who lives in Baker, will take over Elkhorn Dentures when Tatlock retires.

"He's following in the footsteps of his father," Stricker said. "He makes beautiful dentures. And he's a big-hearted guy like his dad."

Tatlock has stayed in business for more than half a century because he finds all his hard work immensely rewarding.

"My favorite part is setting up the teeth," Tatlock said.

He likes meeting different personalities, and when the right set of dentures fits comfortably, Tatlock watches as the patient's face lights up.

"We're helping people get smiles on their face who couldn't afford it otherwise," Tatlock said.

The average price for a set of dentures costs $1,550 but Tatlock is willing to help customers if they can't pay for the teeth all at once. He said he keeps his in-demand commodities affordable by budgeting well and running his business efficiently.

"There aren't 15 girls running around working here, no fancy buildings for the office," he said.

With only three staff members in the practice (Tatlock, his 44-year-old son Curtis and Stricker), it takes Tatlock four appointments to finish completing a patient's dentures.

"We try to get them all done in less than a month," Tatlock said. "We try to do it fast."

Last summer, Tatlock even made a set of dentures for Doris Anderson, who was lost in the Wallowa Mountains for 13 days before she was rescued by police officers.

He took her measurements and brought a new set of teeth to St. Elizabeth's Health Services.

"He worked all night making her those dentures," Stricker said.

Tatlock, who went to the hospital to take Anderson's measurements, said he comes to patients if they're too sick to come to him.

Tatlock also believes in making patients feel as comfortable in their dentures as possible.

"There are always adjustments," Tatlock said. "You're working with a tissue that moves."

Loyal customer Wilma Quinonez said Tatlock has made her two sets of dentures over the years.

"He's the sweetest man in the world," Quinonez said.

After suffering from pain in her mouth, Quinonez attended other dental clinics in Baker, but the pain never subsided. She had teeth pulled, sores in her mouth and a lighter wallet by the time she made her way over to Elkhorn Dentures.

"With denturists, you just cut out the middle man and can go right to the denturist to get your teeth made," Stricker said.

Quinonez finally had enough and decided to try a denturist as a last saving grace.

"They don't pull, just make," Quinonez said of Elkhorn Dentures. "My mouth isn't full of sores anymore. I couldn't bite down from all the pain. Now I can't even tell the dentures are there."

Quinonez boasted that when she came out of her last appointment with her new set of dentures, she felt like a new woman. Apparently, she looked like one, too.

When Quinonez emerged wearing the new teeth, she flashed her husband a pearly white smile.

"He looked at me and said, ‘What'd you do with my wife?' " Quinonez recalled.

Even after all these years, Tatlock hasn't lost his touch. He spends hours in the lab perfecting the dentures and improving his craft.

Tatlock also keeps up-to-date with the latest from organizations such as the Oregon State Denturist Association. The group meets around the state to keep informed on the newest information, like sterilization processes.

He still lives in the house behind his business where he raised and sold horses many years ago.

"There's a lot of history around here," Tatlock said.

He remembers watching Levinger's burn down back when July 4 was a huge holiday in Baker City instead of Haines.

"I don't get too excited on the Fourth of July anymore," Tatlock said. "You've got to go to Haines for the rodeo and the parade. I guess people just got tired."

Tatlock, who's always given back to the community — even made a career of it —has yet to tire in the community where he's spent most of his life.

"He's always given to the sheriff's department, making donations," Stricker said. "He just really cares about the community's needs."

Stricker works closely with Tatlock on a daily basis and never ceases to be amazed by his generosity.

"Maury's philosophy is ‘look good and feel good,' " Stricker said. "The dollar is never the bottom line."