CLIFTON PARK, N.Y. - A local dentist’s offer of free dental care for veterans has already drawn one candidate and the results can be seen in his smile.
Dr. Lewis Morrison has practiced dentistry in Clifton Park for 40 years.
With a lightened patient load in recent years and his son David sharing his practice at Morrison Dental Care, 1524 Route 9, Clifton Park, Morrison wanted to give something back to the community that has supported him for so long.
After hearing from his son of the dental needs of veterans and as a way of recognizing their service, Morrison ran a small advertisement in a local Pennysaver offering free dental work to selected candidates to improve their quality of life.
U.S. Army veteran Gerald “Jerry” Linen of Waterford saw the ad, made the call, and was selected to be the first recipient of Morrison’s largesse.
After several of hours of dental work and two office visits, Linen can now smile widely when he belts out a song at karaoke.
“I love my staff, know my patients, I’ve got grandchildren in the area and a son who will get married and have more. I don’t work every day but I still enjoy it. This is a way to give back,” Morrison said as he sat on a round stool next to Linen . “David did his (dental) residency at Stratton VA Hospital and in our discussing it he said there was a lot of need among veterans.”
Linen, 67, agrees. He served in the Army from 1971 to 1972 in Vietnam with the rank of E-4, and though he is eligible to go to the VA Hospital for his health care he couldn’t remember the last time he’d seen a dentist.
“I knew I had to go to the dentist soon, I could feel it, but I just kept putting it off,” he said. “I saw the ad and said this is probably a bunch of malarkey or a sales pitch but I’ll call anyway.”
Morrison’s advertisement reads, “We want to hear YOUR STORY regarding any dental problems you have and how dental treatment could impact your life. Our team will select candidates from these stories for dental work at no charge”.
After hearing Linen’s story he was asked to come in and meet Dr. Morrison. What the doctor found after a preliminary examination was exactly what he had in mind when he ran the ad.
“We’re not looking to do routine dentistry,” Morrison said of the ad. “If I was going to do routine dentistry at no charge for veterans I’d be here from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. and I’d lose my staff. We’re looking for people who have a situation where (their teeth) really need to be restored and we can make a difference in their life. We’re looking for what’s termed dental cripples.”
As Linen sat in the patient’s chair and smiled, Morrison pointed out the temporary crowns he had put in. Then he turned to a tray nearby and pointed to the 12 permanent crowns and a partial bridge that were waiting to be fitted to Linen’s teeth.
“Gerry’s (case) is about as tough as it gets without surgery,” Morrison said. “If he wanted them fixed and he was uncomfortable with the way they looked and he wasn’t able to chew, and, he was paying, he probably would have wound up having them out. He probably would have wound up with a denture because most people can’t lay out that kind of money.”
Morrison estimated the cost of all the crowns, root canals, the dental bridge and his professional expertise at $16,000 to $20,000.
Dentistry is practically a family trade in the Morrison family. His father was a dentist who practiced in Albany for 45 years.
“That’s where I started,” Morrison said. “His brother-in-law was a dentist and my brother-in-law was a dentist.”
And Morrison’s son David is a dentist. He was asked about the need for dental care that he saw at Stratton VA hospital while in residency there.
“There’s a lot of care being provided at the VA but there is a much greater need than there’s care,” he said. “I remember it was rather complicated to get dental care. There was a lot of need that was going untreated based upon the requirements set up by the VA system.”
Linen is the commander of the VFW in Waterford, a member of the Vietnam Veterans of America, a member of the Disabled American Veterans and the Lansingburgh Veterans Club.
He said when he returned from Vietnam he took a job in steel fabrication and later got training for auto body repair. He didn’t recall ever being offered dental coverage at either job and was unsure if he even had health care coverage.
Morrison said his office has received a few calls from the ad other than Linen’s but they had not met the criteria.
As he sat in the patient’s chair in the treatment room ready for his permanent crowns, Linen described Morrison’s work as “a miracle”.
“What we’re doing is not for somebody who has a bad tooth,” Morrison said. “Somebody who has a bad tooth is temporarily crippled, but a guy who can’t smile, who can’t eat, that’s different.”
Linen said when the work is finished he will show it off to all his fellow veterans.
“When the vets see this I think there will be a lot more knocking on your door,” he said. “Next time I go to church I’m going to pray for this guy.”
“Hey, we can all use all the help we can get,” Morrison shot back.