Let’s Not Lose All Our Teeth

Republican- and Democratic-controlled states alike have reduced or largely eliminated dental coverage for adults on Medicaid, the shared state and federal health insurance program for poor people. The situation is not likely to improve under President Obama’s health care overhaul: it requires dental coverage for children only.

If you’ve ever had a toothache, you know that you’ll have to take care of it immediately, because you’ll end up thinking about it all day. You’ll think about it while sitting at your desk. You’ll certainly think about it while trying to eat, and if you don’t do anything about it, you’ll make the problem worse. People who wait until the very last minute to take care of the problem are usually people without dental insurance, and they often end up in the emergency room. The Times has a Pew report that showed that “preventable dental problems were the primary diagnosis in 830,590 emergency room visits in 2009.

“It’s penny-wise and pound-foolish,” said Shelly Gehshan, the director of the Pew Children’s Dental Campaign. “Rather than an $80 extraction or a $300 filling, states are spending much more on emergency room visits that can’t fix the problem.”

I’m going to make a confession and tell you that I haven’t been to the dentist in two years. I was the kid with braces and a broken jaw—I’d got my teeth cleaned every six months. And then I just … stopped. I don’t have dental coverage now, and I’m just waiting for that moment when I bite into something and feel pain shoot throughout my mouth. When that happens, I’ll just go ahead and pay out of pocket to take care of it immediately. I’m lucky I have the money in savings for such an occasion. The poor do not.



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