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Pam Frampton: We need a health-care plan with teeth


A Twitter acquaintance sent me a link to an insightful story published in The Washington Post on Saturday, “The painful truth about teeth.” Reporters Mary Jordan and Kevin Sullivan describe how dentists from five states gathered at a civic centre in Salisbury, Maryland on a recent Friday morning to take part in a two-day free clinic as part of the nonprofit Mission of Mercy.

Pam Frampton

Hundreds of people from the ranks of the working poor lined up in the frigid hours before dawn to avail of the services.

Many had pain and tooth decay from years of not having the money for regular checkups and maintenance.

As postal worker Ashleigh Hands explains in the accompanying video, the $150 a dental procedure would cost her represents a month’s car insurance or food in her freezer.

Going without car insurance and food isn’t an option.

Her dental plan only covers cleanings.

The lack of affordable dental care is a daunting problem that should not be viewed in isolation and is, in fact, one of the many crippling and interconnected punishments of poverty or fixed income.

And Canada, like America, takes a shortsighted approach to dental care, carving it off and away from medicare, and providing little beyond extractions to those who need it most.

In our own province, an inaugural “No Cost Dental Day” organized by Clarenville Dental Care in March saw the clinic inundated with requests for appointments, with free cleanings, fillings and extractions provided to 103 people — the most the clinic could handle in a day.

“We didn’t expect the reaction that we got,” said manager Michelle Penney, though they knew from day-to-day experience that the need was there.

“As soon as one patient came out, another one went in,” she said.

“We find that a lot of people come in, particularly with children between the ages of 13 and 17, who are not covered. Even adults will come in and say, ‘I can’t afford the filling. Pull the tooth.’”

Clarenville Dental Care plans to make No Cost Dental Day an annual event.

“We wanted to give back to the community,” Penney said. “We thoroughly enjoyed it.”

A poster promoting the free clinic explained the rationale: “Because everyone deserves a smile.”

Unfortunately, we live in a country where all too often, only the rich can afford one.

Linda Clarke, 67, of Conception Bay South is still waiting to get word of exactly what sort of procedure the province will cover instead of the $20,000 dental implant surgery she needs in order to be able to eat solid foods.

Here, as in the States, inaccessible dental care can lead to painful conditions where people are unable to eat. A poor or inadequate diet can lead to anemia and other health problems.

As The Washington Post noted, constant pain can drive people to emergency rooms if they can’t afford a dentist, and ER physicians — unequipped to provide dental care — often end up prescribing painkillers as a short-term remedy, beginning “a perpetual cycle of antibiotics and opioids.”

“That cycle is feeding a nationwide epidemic of opioid addiction,” the article notes.
Patricia Higgins, one of the dentists who volunteered at the free clinic in Maryland, said Americans’ increasing reliance on drugs is exacerbating the problem.

“Many drugs cause dry mouth, which leads to more cavities,” The Post reported.

In the fishing industry, there is an acknowledgment that caplin is a key component of the ocean’s food chain; that an imbalance among that species has far-reaching implications for others.

Yet in this country there seems to be no recognition that dental health is intricately connected to health generally; that prevention and regular checkups and maintenance can save money and stave off suffering down the road.

As Toronto Public Health’s Dr. Hazel Stewart told the CBC in a Feb. 29th, 2016 story, “We’ve got to put the mouth back in the body.”

“It’s regarded as totally different, as though it doesn’t belong in the body,” she said. “If you get an infection in your body, it’s covered, but if it’s in your mouth, you’re left to fend for yourself.”


Pam Frampton is The Telegram’s associate managing editor. Email Twitter: pam_frampton

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