Tooth Telling

Goya y Lucientes,

I’ve spent this past week steeped in dental drama with an infection that wouldn’t quit; but as I resigned myself  to the dentist’s chair, with a rubber dam prying open my mouth, and highly trained hands stuffed inside, it wasn’t just my own agony that preoccupied me, but that of those without dental care. Without insurance. Without access to a specialist and two assistants to provide the best outcome money can buy.

How long do they have to endure pain? What are their options? What must they give up in order to pay for it?

My husband is a teacher, but even with his benefits, my out of pocket expenses were estimated to be around $700.

What kind of coverage is that? Where do others find that kind of “co-pay”? How do they pay the rent after that?

As much as I didn’t want to be in that chair, I knew that I was a lucky one. I thought of all the people around the world whose pain is unattended.

I left with a heavy heart, a swollen mouth and a tighter wallet.

While I rested on the couch, one of my old students put this plea on Facebook:

Does anyone know where I can get a tooth pulled for cheap or free? I can’t fall asleep at night.

I felt his pain. I lived through it. But he couldn’t make a simple phone call and immediately get scheduled for a filling or a crown or an emergency root canal–like mine.

Stories like his were everywhere when I Googled options for treating my infection that didn’t involve any more procedures.

When I opened Yes! magazine, there were profiles of working people, living in poverty, whose minimum-wage-raise aspirations included the dentist.

Of those, the most heart rendering was this:

I might be able to get my teeth fixed. My three front teeth are broken. There’s a program with the VA that, for $50 a month, they’ll take care of everything. I just can’t afford that with what I’m making now. I still love America and the freedom that we have here.

I know there are dentists who volunteer their time for free at walk-in clinics and in their offices, but something isn’t right.

How do you live with the inequity? Do you comfort yourself by saying that these uninsured folks should get a better job? Go to college? Earn more money?

I can’t hide there. I live in a country with so much wealth, so much opportunity, and the inequities break my heart.


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