Free dental services try to help the uninsured

Mary Otto

About Mary Otto

Mary Otto, a Washington, D.C.-based freelancer, is AHCJ's topic leader on oral health, curating related material at healthjournalism.org. She welcomes questions and suggestions on oral health resources at mary@healthjournalism.org.

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.

Photo by “wistechcolleges” at Flickr.com.

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.

Mary OttoMary Otto, AHCJ’s topic leader on oral health is writing blog posts, editing tip sheets and articles and gathering resources to help our members cover oral health care.

If you have questions or suggestions for future resources on the topic, please send them to mary@healthjournalism.org.

“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.

11 thoughts on “Free dental services try to help the uninsured

  1. susan schoen

    Im in desperate need of dental care. Even if i can get a sliding scale. My job does not offer dental care.

  2. william krause

    is there any where in the aiken sc of augusta I can get a filling replaced on medicare have no dental ins

  3. cindy

    I am in desperate need of a place near Danville,va. My teeth are causeing me medical problems. I need oral surgery on part of my teeth, so even with dental insurance it will run me about 700 for two teeth. I can not afford this due to being on fixed income that is over half of my check. Please help me. No place here knows of anything.

  4. William ludwig

    My teeth are affecting my health. I don’t smoke, drink, do drugs. I brush and care for my teeth twice daily. I cannot go to the clinics here in las cruces, nm because all they want to do is rip my teeth out with no help to put false teeth in. Please help.

  5. Katie Roberson

    I am a 31 yr old single mother of 3 daughters! I am on state aide and I can not get a job! I am in severe need of dental work and its getting worse by the month. I brush twice daily but does not seem to work. I have reached out for help and as an adult, medicare does not cover adults, only my kids. I do not know where to turn for the help I so badly need.. I am in Sacramento, California… Please help or point me in a direction.. thank you!!!

  6. carol basinger

    I myself am so desperate need of dental my teeth no more I am homeless at times living on a park bench plz I’m afraid of the poison in my mouth due to poor hygrometer plz I live in Fontana. California. So I’m asking help me or in a direction that thank-you Carol Basinger
    can help me

  7. Shaunamellow

    Please help me, im in alot of pain an need of dental work an in pain all the time need fillings fixed an have a partial please help thankyou.. deperateme :(

  8. corina guzman

    someone please help me. I am a college student and almost done to be graduating with a bachelor or science in biology and minor in psychology. I have had bad teeth since I can remember and cry so much from the pain I get and I sit and wonder why as a child my own parents failed to care for my teeth and discipline me better on better eating and brushing. I am a mother to a precious 3 year old who is my everything. I don’t know where to turn anymore. I have had some work on what I could afford when I got a school loan and financial aid check. A dentist performed a root canal on me 2 years ago and today is hurts so much I almost want to just pull my tooth on my own. I also have other areas that are hurting me so much and simply do not know what to do to fix this. I try to go on my day and I can’t enjoy my life any more because of the constant pains associated with stresses also of knowing I am far from being out of pain and depression. All I wish is that I can get a generous help from a willing person who would be the greatest of blessing to me and my daughter. My heart is so upset at this point in life.. please

  9. Cindy Jameson

    Here’s my story: I had my bottom teeth pulled (all of them by the way) in 2003, I got set of bottom dentures that were so poorly made that I have not been able to wear them (EVER)….
    My husband was in a real bad accident in 2009 and had to go on disability. So we have very little money to live on. my top teeth are really bad and need to be pulled and get dentures, I cannot find a place to do that anywhere near us. We Live In Pryor, Oklahoma. I would gladly drive anywhere if I can get some Help.

  10. Misti

    Hello, my name is Misti Rife. I am a single mother who is currently an unemployed full time student. I am 26 years old, living in Lexington SC. I am in desperate need of dental help. I have 19 teeth total and every one of them are rotten. I constantly stay in pain and I haven’t fully smiled in 5 years. I am going into the medical field, but was recently terminated from my job due to my sons illness at the time. I am awaiting an unemployment hearing for my application. I live with a friend who is trying to help me and my son out at the moment. I receive food stamps and my son and I do have medicaid, but my medicaid plan doesn’t cover adult dental. If there is anyway at all that you could possibly help me it would be greatly appreciated. My teeth were perfect until I became pregnant and I can not seem to find anyone who is able to help me. Thank you.
    -Misti Rife

  11. Ernest magnelli

    I have dental insurance,but am on a fixed income,DID have some money saved but not any more.
    I can’t afford to pay to fix what a quack has ruined,and my insurance also can’t.
    And the system set up to protect the patient won’t even help police their what ever u call these ,Quacks (surely aren’t Dentist)
    Went for dental work not knowing I was about to get taken to the cleaners.
    I was promised that when he was finished I would have no more problems and if one came up get in hers as fast as u can and we will fix it.
    When the problem came up I went in and he looked and said (There is NOTHING I can do) after promising.
    (Have had to have several root canals,have lost 2 implants,2 teeth, have one Thoth loose,the rest are either to short and aren’t aligning have been ground down to far, the top is fighting the bottom,trying to crowed each other out. That is just a little bit,on the top teeth, the bottom teeth are another problem.)
    EVEN,went to the dental association in Columbia South Carolina,to a dentist for an evaluation and got screwed, every one says we will fix this and that,but not what is really the problem,they want work around it and then say there is nothing more we can do but remove all that was put in and start over,? DUH.
    Well I can’t afford to pay for what has al ready cost me and my insurance enough to to buy me a BMW.
    A new ONE at that.
    My teeth hurt all the time,I need a dentist that is a dentist, one who is committed to help save teeth,not out to just fill his POCKETS, It seems like today that is where their HEARTS are,in their WALLET.

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