Have Teeth, Must Pay To Keep Them

Dental hygienist flossing a patient's teeth du...

Dental hygienist flossing a patient’s teeth during a periodic tooth cleaning. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I went to the dentist this morning for what I thought was going to be a routine cleaning.

I came out with the news that I need a crown for a cracked molar.  No, I didn’t bite down on a nutshell or anything stupid. The dentist blames it on the contraction and expansion of an old filling. “Comes with usage and age,” he says. “Oh, and the fix for it will cost you two trips back to my office and about $1,400.”

OK, I did get a new toothbrush, travel-size toothpaste and dental floss for my troubles this morning. And it was better to find out the tooth was cracked, rather than have it break and find out that way. But dental maintenance just stinks sometimes, even with insurance. It’s  expensive and can be painful and time-consuming. I’d hate to live without teeth, and I do have the funds to take care of whatever part of this insurance does not.

I’d like to see dental care become part of the national health care debate, and know that everyone gets equal access to both good medical  and good dental care. I’ve heard the stories of people going for years without seeing a dentist, because there are none where they live. Or waiting for days outside a free mobile clinic when it rolls into town, because local dentistry is too expensive. I know dental schools offer clinics to those who cannot afford care, but there are 65 accredited dental schools in the United States, according to the American Dental Association, and 47 million people in the United States who face difficulties getting dental care, according the Federal Health Resources and Services Administration. Those are not good odds for getting help; even if the school does offer services, those who need it have to get there.

Crown Round One is this week. It’s a bump in the road, not a disaster. But for those who don’t have insurance, or even a dentist within driving distance, a situation like this changes everything from how they eat to whether they can work to deciding whether to pay for the repair versus paying other bills. Oh, and it can take away that most natural sign of joy – the smile. And that’s never fair. After all, as an unknown, but thoughtful author once said, “A smile is like tight underwear. They both make your cheeks go up.”

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