I have struggled with this myself over many years, and still struggle with it, because I have such a large family to care for. I pay for dental insurance through my employer and most of my kids are or have been also covered through their biological father’s insurance; nevertheless, dental care is horrifically expensive. What’s worse, where I live, at least, many dentists will not treat a patient — even someone in obvious pain, as this man is — without first being paid the estimated patient’s share of the bill up front.
I remember years ago, dentists would work with you, let you make payment arrangements for necessary treatment. From what I have witnessed, not any more. If you don’t pay up ahead of time or right away after you’ve been treated, even in instances in which most of your bill is covered by insurance, they send you to collections. If you don’t pay up quickly once your bill has gone to collection, you will end up sued, then garnisheed.
FOR DENTAL CARE.
Care that all human beings need in order to be healthy.
To cope with this inexcusable state of affairs, people are dealing with their dental problems as this man did and some of my grown kids have. They carry around bottles of ice water, swish it around their aching jaws, spit it out when it’s not cold anymore, then another mouth full of ice water. They gulp aspirin. They don’t eat on that side. Maybe they go to dentists who just pull people’s teeth for a living and get their aching teeth pulled. As one person says in this article, “That’s the treatment poor people get–they get their teeth pulled.” In my state it the majority of dentists no longer accept Medicaid patients because Medicaid pays only 30 percent of what private insurers pay (and of course, Medicaid patients can’t pay the difference, couldn’t pay the difference between what private insurers paid and what they owed even if they had private insurance.)
A recent situation in my extended family is right on topic. A woman relative developed colon cancer and had to have surgery and then chemotherapy over years, basically. Her husband was retired from the Civil Service — he had been an airplane mechanic — and so they were covered by insurance, but it didn’t nearly cover my relative’s colon-cancer-associated expenses. She ended up with thousands and thousands of dollars of uncovered bills. During the time she was being treated, her husband got all of his aching and infected teeth pulled. It was his only choice. A “full mouth reconstruction,” which is what the dentist prescribed for his many decayed, infected and mobile teeth, would have cost more than $15,000, by far most of it not covered by insurance. Dentures were made for him, but he didn’t have the $900-plus he needed to pay the non-insured portion of the bill so they stayed with the dentist until he could pay. To make a long story short, my relative and her husband ended up selling their home, which they’d lived in for more than 20 years, in an attempt to pay some of their medical bills and get these dentures. When the husband finally showed up for his dentures — all of this time he was walking around completely toothless — the dentist who was holding them until the $900 was paid had either moved or retired; in any event, he was no longer in practice. Meaning the husband had to start over with another dentist. (As an aside, my relative and her husband finally declared bankruptcy. My relative’s treatment for colon cancer and her husband’s dental and other health problems destroyed them financially. In their 60s, after a lifetime of working very hard, both of them, at blue collar jobs and raising five sons, they lost their home and everything they had.)
Missing teeth make it difficult for people to chew their food, to eat and get proper nutrition. Missing teeth in the front especially make it hard for people to get jobs, make it more likely that they will be mistreated, marginalized, because in our culture, missing teeth equal poverty or worse, mean that you “don’t care about your looks”, and that means something clearly is wrong with you, because what “normal” person “doesn’t care about her looks” and walks around with teeth missing? And obviously, infected and decaying teeth are unhealthy and have been connected with heart disease and many other problems.
There was a heartfelt response to the situation of the man in the photo, and as it turned out, Seattle Times readers made it possible for him to get his eight infected teeth — four molars, four wisdom teeth — pulled and to get his other dental needs met. He was thrilled–he had been in pain with these teeth for eight years. But he said something I know to be true–he said there is nothing unusual about his situation. He said to find out about that, just go to any clinic which on some basis, one day a week or month, treats poor people. He said you will see them lined up from hours before the clinic opens, in large numbers, all of them holding their teeth, crying, all of them in pain.