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Plastic trays line a shelf in the lab in the back room of John Mateskon’s office, each one holding a white plaster model of a person’s teeth.

The formation of those models is one of the first steps in making dentures, which is what Mateskon has done for more than 40 years.

But it isn’t all about making perfect sets of pearly whites. People want their teeth to look the way they always have. Mateskon often recreates a person’s dental imperfections — leaving gaps, or twisting a tooth just right.

“Those kinds of things make dentures look real,” he said.

Mateskon, 66, is originally from Michigan. He found the teeth-making profession when his father showed him a college catalog that included a dental technology program.

He had always been good with his hands, so he went for it.

“It was fun. It wasn’t work,” he said. “It was fun making teeth, and I was good at it.”

He wanted to move to Montana, so when he graduated a professor helped him land a job at a lab in Bozeman in 1976. He later bought the lab.

Back then, his only job was building dentures. Dentists dealt with patients and hired a lab to build whatever they needed. But after a ballot initiative passed in 1984, Montana became one of a few states where denturists can practice independently of a dentist, meaning they can see patients on their own.

Since then, Mateskon has been doing both sides of the job. There’s a dental chair in one room of his office, not far from the lab where Mateskon builds the teeth.

Dentures don’t last forever. Some of his patients are on their third set.

Repair requests come in all the time, too, often after dentures meet a ubiquitous household menace.

“Dogs keep me busy,” Mateskon said.

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Michael Wright can be reached at mwright@dailychronicle.com or at 406-582-2638. Follow him on Twitter @mj_wright1.

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