There's been a break in the case of George Washington's missing false teeth, but the bad news is that the Smithsonian has only recovered half--the lower half--of the gold-and-ivory choppers.

A Smithsonian employe came upon the historic lowers May 3 in a storeroom drawer not far from where they had been discovered missing more than a year ago. Museum officials speculate the culprit may have retained the uppers because of their gold content, but they don't know how much gold might be in the teeth, uppers or lowers.

And they aren't closing the case. "We are hoping to get the entire set back. They are obviously an important historic artifact of the United States," said Smithsonian spokesman Lawrence E. Taylor.

The dentures, one of four sets of false teeth owned by Washington, were made in 1795. "They're terrible-looking things," Taylor said last year. "They don't look like teeth at all, they're just a series of ivory blocks, all carved to essentially the same size." But ugly or not, the Smithsonian treasures them. Taylor lamented that "the worst thing that can happen is to lose an item of great historical importance."

The FBI will continue its search for the uppers, another set of false teeth (not one of Washington's) and two gold pocket watches all believed taken at the same time by an unknown culprit who somehow got into a high-security storage room at the Smithsonian.