Most Americans probably enjoyed a good meal or two during the holidays.
But staying well-nourished, let alone enjoying food, are challenges for people suffering from untreated dental disease.
A dental practice, based in Savannah, Ga., and South Carolina has made it a tradition to offer free dental care on the Friday before Thanksgiving, as Raquel Rodriquez reported for WSAV-Savannah, Ga.
The report by Rodriquez, “Brighter Smiles Thanks to Free Dental Services,” opened with footage of a long line of people waiting in the early morning for care from Howard Family Dental.
For poor adults, obtaining dental care has been an enduring problem. But images of such lines have become increasingly familiar since the economy slumped.
One of the dentists reminded Rodriquez that, in tough economic times, dental care sometimes gets delayed because of cost.
“A lot of small businesses can no longer afford to offer that benefit for their employees so a lot of people have lost their insurance even if they have a job and so many people have become unemployed that they no longer have insurance at all,” Dr. Julie Howard told her.
Rodriquez also spoke with patient James Kellogg, who came for a tooth extraction. He told her that his tooth had been bothering him for six months but when money is tight other expenses come first.
“When you got different priorities like taking care of your home life and stuff like that you try to put your pain on the back burner but there’s a point where you have to take care of it,” Kellogg said.
Poor adults are not entitled to dental care under Medicaid. Adult dental benefits are considered optional and vary from state to state, making them vulnerable to cuts during economic downturns.
Safety-net clinics located in Federally Qualified Health Centers, community health centers, dental schools and state and local health departments offer care to 7 or 8 million Americans, far short of the estimated 80 to 100 million Americans who need it, according to the Institute of Medicine.
Free weekend clinics such as those organized by nonprofits such as the Remote Area Medical Foundation and Mission of Mercy in communities across the country draw crowds of people in need of care. But organizers acknowledge that charity care alone cannot fix the system.
“Lack of resources to pay for dental services, either through dental insurance or out-of-pocket, is a major barrier to oral health care for many low-income Americans. The problem is particularly acute for low-income adults, who are more likely to be uninsured than low-income children,” observed the Kaiser Commission on Medicaid and the Uninsured in an oral health policy brief published in the summer.
If you find yourself covering one of these events, the paper, which offers data and analysis of the problem could be a valuable resource for you.