The first thing one may notice about Bob Clement is the stillness that he generates. His movements are silent but welcoming into an apartment that is immaculate. Cleanliness, according to Bob, is his salvation. Originally from Saranac Lake, Bob spent his early years living with various family members. He brushes it off as nothing unusual.
"My life story is that I try not to owe anyone anything." Bob quietly states. "I owe my girlfriend for hanging in there with me. Beverly (Finlayson) is very special to me. We've been together for eight years now and I just owe these people for helping me out."
The people Bob refers to are from the Saranac Lake Voluntary Heath Association. In September, the SLVHA and the Adirondack Medical Center Foundation began offering financial assistance for basic dental care to residents living within the Saranac Lake School District. To date, 17 of 20 applications have been approved for cleanings and exams as well as fillings, crowns, extractions and root canals. The approved applicants proved that the dental visit posed a financial hardship. All costs for procedures are not necessarily picked up by the SLVHA. In most cases, the individual bears a portion of the financial responsibility. (People can receive an application by contacting the SLVHA at 891-0910.)
Bob Clement has something to grin about
(Photo — Diane Chase)
Bob says in his mild way, "I heard about the voluntary health program through my girlfriend's mother. She had read about it in the newspaper. She got an application and I filled it out. We sent it in and within a week, they wanted to see me. I had to see the dentist first to have him look me over to see if I really needed the work. And I did. I really needed the dental work more than anything else in the world."
Bob was suffering from genetic predisposition to pyorrhea or periodontal disease, a gum disease that affects the gums, causing the teeth to loosen and become infected. He had lost teeth over the years and was self-conscious about how he felt people viewed him.
"Here I am known as 'Mr. Clean' but my mouth was awful. I would talk with my hand in front of my mouth. I was always wondering if people were thinking I'm neat on the outside but not taking care of my inside. It was bad.
"I was in pain a lot of the time with my teeth. I was sensitive to hot and cold."This journey was going on for about 10 to 15 years. Every time I would put money away to pay for the dental work, something would happen, so I would have to put it off. I felt like I was stricken to walk around with a bad mug," he shakes his head. "There was no other option at the time. There was nothing like this help from voluntary health. I'd never heard anything like it before.
"I already knew I had this problem, so when I went to the dentist I was able to ask for a recommendation on my application. It's the dentist that makes the decision whether you qualify. Then the SLVHA has a panel of five and I had to meet with two of them." Bob adds "If you need help, you need to know that there is help out there. Believe me. I just want to help people and let them know how this helped me and how it may help them."
He saw Dr. Murray on Church Street who took x-rays, a panoramic of his mouth and recommended Bob to the SLVHA for the dental assistance. He had to have the whole upper part of his mouth worked on and is currently waiting for the rest of the bottom to be completed. To date he has had nine teeth extracted.
"I have seen four different dentists here and in Canada to ask what I could have done," he said. "They all said the same thing. They all asked if I had family members that wore dentures and I said yes, just about everyone. They told me I had a genetic disposition for pyorrhea. It destroys your gums and jawbone. My jaw was actually deteriorating," Bob smiles for the first time.
Because other applicants that received financial assistance from the SLVHA did not require Bob's extensive dental work, the board of directors was able to allocate more funds to help Bob's case.
"I am grateful," he says shaking his head. "I can finally smile and not feel guilty about the way I look. All my friends say I look like a different man. It is a whole plate that I had to have done. As long as you can do something for yourself, you should do it. Otherwise, it's not going to happen. You have to grab opportunity when you can."
Bob relays how he was asked to contribute a certain amount of money and whole-heartedly agreed. When he found out how much it was going to cost. He couldn't begin to think where he was going to be able to get the funds. Currently, Bob has his upper bridgework done and is waiting for the lower portion to be completed. If possible, he will be able to maintain a few of his original teeth but is confident in work that is being done.
"Now I don't care what people think," he said. "I am in the process. It is night and day from what it was before."
Bob describes the method he went through. He had to get nine teeth pulled and receive a temporary denture. Softspoken Bob laughs how he'd been given pain killers so he felt fine until a day later when "it felt like a bomb went off" in his mouth. He trusted the process and continues to do "just what the doctor orders."
He commends his boss at Whiteface Mountain with working around his schedule so he could get the dental work complete.
"My boss, Debbie Taylor, was so agreeable, letting me take an extra day to recuperate," he said. "She was fine with that. She understood about that. She helped work it out. I have gotten so much support from everyone. She understood. It's the smallest part of your body that will hurt the most. It involves your whole head. You have to think, hear and see. When your teeth go crazy, you can't think."
Bob had to wait until his mouth settled and was healthy. Even after going through all the pain of pulled teeth, fittings and filings he can't stop smiling. The whole process will be finished by spring. He has to continue with dental appointments. Bob also had to take an antibiotic to clear up any infection.
"I was asked if I was going to keep up with any scheduled appointments and I thought, of course I will," he said. "It would be stupid of me not to. I finally feel well. I want to stay that way."
He strongly urges people to take advantage of the program.
"Just find out about it. If you don't have the money, it doesn't mean that there isn't a way out there for someone to help. It wasn't there for me until this (SLVHA) came along and was willing to help me get the job done. Don't chase down the members of the voluntary health. Get an application and see what happens," he urges. "I laugh a lot now. It is amazing. I look in the mirror and feel good about myself. I even smile. It's a great program. That is all there is to it. You are giving someone back his self esteem and a good push forward."
He compares himself to a frog jumping all over the place. He lived in Rochester for a while but didn't like the city and moved back home.
"I like the fact that my job changes," he said. "I never know what I am going to do when I am at Whiteface. I could be at the bottom of the mountain swinging a chair or at the summit watching the skiers go past me. I prefer a quiet life.
"I keep to myself. I've always done construction of some sort. I work in the summer with a fellow as a handyman and during the winter as one of the lift attendants at Whiteface. I haven't skied since I was a kid. I've checked tickets. I clean the chair at mid-check or at the top. I enjoy it. It gets me outside. I'd rather be outside meeting with all the folks asking how their ski was. The next thing you know your day is done. That is something about the Adirondacks. People do what they need to do."
He points to a small building about the size of an ice-fishing shanty he built which he uses for hunting and camping at legal camping sites. His girlfriend is the manager of an apartment building on Will Rogers Drive in Saranac Lake where Bob assists with the maintenance. He likes to work on his truck and maintains it himself. He modestly talks about being able to be self-sufficient with his vehicle.
"If my truck had a computer-related problem then I would have to take it in to someone, but otherwise, yes, I can fix it myself," as he bemoans the use of salt on the road and how it eats up cars. "Putting salt on the road started with the 1980 Olympics in Lake Placid. Before that we just put sand on the roads and drove a little slower. Then you could pick the sand up and use it again. Now, with the salt, we are killing the trees and damaging the water. We should bring back the old days."
His daughter is now in Rochester doing quite well, and his son moved to Georgia after he was honorably discharged from the Marines. Bob speaks proudly of his children.
"My kids are doing like you want your kids to do," he said. "They surpassed me. They flew like they had rocket packs on their backs, past me."
For Bob, he is enjoying the quiet life with a smile on his face.