When Dr. Bob Cram first started his orthodontics practice in Red Deer, he had no idea his first patient would have four legs.
But when he first set up shop in 1980, Cram was contacted by the Cedarwood Vet Clinic to put a set of braces on a German Shepherd.
“That was a bit rocky,” said Cram. “The practice has gone to the dogs already.
“I got a call and the guy asked me if I was Bob Cram the new orthodontist. I said yeah, and he said ‘want to do braces on a dog.’”
Cram said he would call the guy back and looked the number up in the phone book to find out who was making the call. After discovering it was a legitimate request he returned the call.
“It was a German Shepherd with a really bad bite,” said Cram. “So we did braces on him and fixed him up in about two months.”
At the time in 1980 his office wasn’t yet finished and he didn’t have any patients, so he took what work he could. Cram said over the course of his career he worked on about a dozen dogs.
Eventually his practice would grow to include humans and over the next 30-plus years Cram would put braces on the teeth of many Red Deerians, something he loved to do.
“It was a fun experience, I just loved going to work,” said Cram. “I was very blessed with quite a few long-term staff, it becomes almost a family thing when you’re doing second or third generation patients it is a hoot.”
But it wasn’t always this way. Growing up in Indian Head, Sask. Cram himself was told he needed braces and headgear. But he was stubborn and didn’t behave, and being as there was only one orthodontist he had access to, he was kicked out.
“I didn’t comply and I got turfed,” said Cram. “I wasn’t behaving. A number of years later a different orthodontist came to Saskatchewan and I ended up going to him and having re-treatment.”
As Cram grew up he realized that becoming an orthodontist was a career path that spoke to him. º“I thought, this is what I wanted to do,” said Cram. “I want to work with my hands and I want to work with people this age.”
When he made the decision to pursue this career he had no idea how long it would take. Eleven years of university later, Cram completed the “brutal” journey and got into the business.
He went to the University of Saskatchewan in Saskatoon for both his Bachelors of Science, pre-dentistry, and his Doctor of Dental Medicine, from 1966 to 1975. After spending a couple of years in Saskatchewan going into schools and doing the dentistry for children under a provincial public health program, he enrolled in the MCID (Orthodontics) program at the University of Western Ontario in London, Ont.
“I knew I wanted to go back to orthodontics,” said Cram. “Dentistry was kind of something I had to do to get to orthodontics.”
Before he started his practice in Red Deer he taught at the dentistry school and the University of Saskatchewan.
The story of how he ended up in Red Deer started back when he was taking dentistry in school. During the summer his job was to drive the Greyhound bus from Edmonton to Calgary.
“I rolled through Red Deer a few times and thought, hey this is a nice sized place,” said Cram. “Being from Saskatchewan there is no way on God’s green earth I was going to go to Edmonton or Calgary.”
As he was teaching he decided he would rather do and not just teach. He came out to Red Deer and started his practice in 1980. For the next 33 years he practiced in Red Deer.
Cram was very involved in the Canadian Association of Orthodontists during his career, even becoming its president for a term from 2008 to 2009.
“I really miss the contact with the patients,” said Cram. “It’s a fun experience, it’s not painful anymore and I had a needle phobia so 33 years of never giving a needle was just fine with me.”
As someone who didn’t initially enjoy the experience of getting braces, Cram said it made it easier to relate to the young people who were his patients.
“The only stress in the office is really at the front desk with the parents paying the receptionist,” said Cram.
Cram was not just an orthodontist in the community. He was an active member of the Red Deer Flying Club. But the interest in flying started in the early 1980s when Cram and his accountant started taking lessons. They took their lessons over two years and ended up buying a plane from the flying school together with three partners.
Eventually the group ended up having three different planes. Now that he lives out in Qualicum Beach, B.C. he recently sold one of the planes he was a partner on and is looking to get into the activity on the coast.
Cram said flying was a bit like orthodontics in that you had to plan everything and be meticulous, while being different enough that it is very relaxing to fly.
An ulterior motive for Cram was getting to see his beloved Saskatchewan Roughriders easily.
“What would you prefer to do? An eight and a half hour drive or a two and a half hour flight,” said Cram.
Cram would fly to about six Riders games a year. But sometimes he wouldn’t fly back. One year he won the flying club’s Greyhound award, which is given to the person who makes the most one-way flights.
“The point being, that is when most of the accidents occur,” said Cram. “When people push the weather. You would never fly into that weather going to the game, you wouldn’t go if the weather was bad. You have to be disciplined enough.”
Though Cram has chosen to retire to B.C. he said he will miss his friends and the organizations he was a part of in Red Deer.
“Red Deer is a great place to raise a family,” said Cram. “I have two kids and we had a great time. It was a fabulous experience.”