University Place dental lab burglary raises questions about suspects intentions

After a University Place dental laboratory was burglarized over the weekend, there are questions being raised over the equipment the suspects got away with.

On Saturday morning, two suspects broke into Custom Dental Aesthetics, located on 40th St. W, right next to the Green Firs Towne Center.

According to the Pierce County Sheriff's Department, the suspects stole four porcelain ovens out of the business.

Porcelain ovens are mainly used in dentistry to make ceramic dental restorations, such as crowns or bridges. The Sheriff's Department says they're valued at $8,000-$10,000 each.

Surveillance video shows the suspects arriving at the dental lab around 6 a.m. in a green mini-van, and using a black wagon with a silver handle to transport the ovens.

Owner Mike Shelley says he's never dealt with a burglary like this in the decades he's run the lab, though he believes it was a coordinated crime.

"It’s kind of like a dagger when you got to wake up at six in the morning and come fly down here and see what happens," Shelley said. "It sounds like it was targeted and they knew what they were after."

Even local law enforcement is questioning the reasoning behind why the thieves didn't go after anything else inside the business, like drugs or computers.

"It's really hard to imagine what value you could get for these things on the black market," said Sergeant Darren Moss with the Pierce County Sheriff's Department. "They specifically took these four ovens and didn't really bother with anything else."

While porcelain ovens do go for a pretty penny, finding a buyer could be an issue, as they do come with serial numbers.

This case is somewhat reminiscent of a 2016 investigation near Atlanta, where police arrested a Ukrainian man who was operating an unlicensed dental office inside a warehouse.

Law enforcement said the man was using a stolen porcelain oven, which is what initially led them to discover the illegal practice. According to reports, a burglary victim discovered a porcelain oven for sale online, and when he met with the seller, the serial number on the oven matched the one recently stolen from him.

When asked if there was a similarity between this theft and the one in Georgia, the Pierce County Sheriff's Department says it's possible, though it's relatively unknown for now.

"I don’t know if that’s something we have or this is being used for some sort of drug making or something else. It's just interesting, I wouldn’t think you’d have a big enough market or a specific buyer for these ovens," Sgt. Moss said.

There is also the possibility the burglars will scrap the ovens for parts.

This incident remains under investigation. Anyone with information about the break-in is asked to contact the Pierce County Sheriff's Department.


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