A Healthy Blog

Massachusetts health care — wonky, with a healthy dose of reality

Oral Health New Roundup: "People end up dying, and these are the most treatable, preventable diseases in the world"

Oral Health New Roundup: "People end up dying, and these are the most treatable, preventable diseases in the world"

September 12, 2011

Here’s a Monday afternoon triple-threat oral health news roundup:

Cincinnati, OH NBC affiliate WLWT reported that a 24-year-old single father died two weeks ago as the result of an oral infection because he didn’t have access to health insurance. The prohibitive cost of having his infected wisdom tooth extracted prevented him from getting the care he so desperately needed. According to the article, “the tooth infection spread, causing his brain to swell. He died Tuesday.”

The article recalls the case of Deamonte Driver, a 12-year-old Maryland boy who died under similar circumstances in 2007.

Another article quotes Dr. Irvin Silverstein, a dentist at the University of California at San Diego, “when people are unemployed or don't have insurance, where do they go? What do they do? […] People end up dying, and these are the most treatable, preventable diseases in the world."


The LA Times reports this morning on the impact of the state cutting back dental benefits two years ago.  The California action impacts the nearly 3 million adults who rely on the state’s Medicaid program, Medi-Cal, for their dental coverage.  The article hits on many things we’re seeing in Massachusetts, just a year after similar cuts to MassHealth adult dental benefits. People are waiting until the pain from their infections becomes unbearable to seek treatment, resulting in the need for costly emergency care, and in many cases, extractions.

The article points to the Kaiser Family Foundation poll released in the spring that reported one in three people nationwide forgoes routine dental visits because they cannot afford it. The article also cites the recommendation of the Institute of Medicine from their July report, which “urged states to include dental coverage for adults with Medicaid and recommended better training so primary care doctors can spot oral diseases.”

The article is an important reminder of the effects the denial of dental care is having every day for millions of people across the country, from California to the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. The article also highlights the importance of expanding access to care by involving other healthcare providers in oral health. There is, however, one misstep. The article states that “dental care is the oft-ignored cousin of medical care.” Here in Massachusetts oral health advocates have made their message crystal clear: oral health IS health, and dental insurance IS health insurance.


Our third oral health news item brings us right back here to the Commonwealth. Last week, the Massachusetts League of Community Health Centers released The Impact of Cuts to Medicaid and Commonwealth Care Adult Dental Coverage on Massachusetts Community Health Centers 2010-2011 Report. Health Care For All’s HelpLine provided consumer stories and call data to assist in the drafting of the report. HCFA commends the League for putting together this valuable report and for their significant efforts to meet the rapid increase in demand cause by the cuts. They have made greats strides by increasing they days and hours health centers are open, as well is expanding their staff and facilities, as highlighted in the report.

In the year following the legislature’s FY11 cuts to MassHealth adult dental benefits 22,047 new patients flocked to community health centers, the last place many of them can still access comprehensive care. The health centers have responded to the need for care, with 65% of the 48 centers increasing their hours. The report “…showcases the tremendous burden the health centers and patients are experiencing as a result [of the cuts].”

As the economy worsens, it becomes more and more difficult for low-income adults and children to access care. Without access to appropriate medical care, dental disease becomes a painful, costly, and even deadly problem. This is the thread that weaves these stories together. Dental insurance is health insurance. Every day that goes by that residents of the Commonwealth don’t have essential benefits, the more expensive the cut becomes for the state, more people suffer, and we come another day closer to having our own inevitable national headline about a Massachusetts resident’s tragic death because they couldn’t access basic health care treatment.
-Courtney Chelo