The agony of the teeth — yet another gap between rich and poor | Arkansas Blog

Sunday, May 14, 2017

The agony of the teeth — yet another gap between rich and poor

Posted By on Sun, May 14, 2017 at 8:18 AM

Most moving story in the rush of news on my Twitter feed last night; The Washington Post account of how the inability to get dental care illustrates another growing gap between rich and poor in America.

I can't imagine what this year would have been like for me had I been unable to afford the two root canals I had in one week. A toothache makes it just about impossible to concentrate on anything else.

The Post article begins with the story of hundreds who turned out for a free dental clinic, such as have been held in Arkansas occasionally. The people there found   relief for problems that had existed in some cases for years.

No. 503 in line was Dee Matello.

The small-business owner who supports President Trump had a cracked molar, no dental insurance and a nagging soreness that had forced her to chew on the right side of her mouth for years.

“It’s always bothering me,” she said. And although her toothache wasn’t why she voted for Trump, it was a constant reminder of one reason she did: the feeling that she had been abandoned, left struggling to meet basic needs in a country full of fantastically rich people.

As the distance between rich and poor grows in the United States, few consequences are so overlooked as the humiliating divide in dental care. High-end cosmetic dentistry is soaring, and better-off Americans spend well over $1 billion each year just to make their teeth a few shades whiter.

Millions of others rely on charity clinics and hospital emergency rooms to treat painful and neglected teeth. Unable to afford expensive root canals and crowns, many simply have them pulled. Nearly 1 in 5 Americans older than 65 do not have a single real tooth left.

Over two days at the civic center, volunteer dentists would pull 795 teeth. A remarkable number of patients held steady jobs — a forklift operator, a librarian, a postal worker — but said they had no dental insurance and not enough cash to pay for a dentist

Something is wrong in this picture in a country touted so often for its exceptionalism.

Related reading: A first-person account from a Wisconsin professor who's moved to Sweden. Higher taxes? Yes. But not THAT much higher. And the return? Worth it, he writes, listing all the specifics, including covered health care (delivered for less per person than U.S. health care).

Editorial: Health care should be a right of being an American, as much as interstate highways.

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