ONTD Political

No healthcare? Well, sucks to be you.

1:54 am - 09/05/2011
Man Dies From Toothache, Couldn't Afford Meds
By CARRIE GANN, ABC News Medical Unit
Sept. 2, 2011

A 24-year-old Cincinnati father died from a tooth infection this week because he couldn't afford his medication, offering a sobering reminder of the importance of oral health and the number of people without access to dental or health care.

According to NBC affiliate WLWT, Kyle Willis' wisdom tooth started hurting two weeks ago. When dentists told him it needed to be pulled, he decided to forgo the procedure, because he was unemployed and had no health insurance.

When his face started swelling and his head began to ache, Willis went to the emergency room, where he received prescriptions for antibiotics and pain medications. Willis couldn't afford both, so he chose the pain medications.

The tooth infection spread, causing his brain to swell. He died Tuesday.

Calls to Willis' family were not immediately returned. University Hospital in Cincinnati, where Willis was admitted, did not comment, citing federal privacy laws.

"People don't realize that dental disease can cause serious illness," said Dr. Irvin Silverstein, a dentist at the University of California at San Diego. "The problems are not just cosmetic. Many people die from dental disease."

Willis' story is not unique. In 2007, 12-year-old Deamonte Driver also died when a tooth infection spread to his brain. The Maryland boy underwent two operations and six weeks of hospital care, totaling $250,000. Doctors said a routine $80 tooth extraction could have saved his life. His family was uninsured and had recently lost its Medicaid benefits, keeping Deamonte from having dental surgery.

"When people are unemployed or don't have insurance, where do they go? What do they do?" Silverstein said. "People end up dying, and these are the most treatable, preventable diseases in the world."

Getting access to dental care is particularly tough for low-income adults and children, and it's getting tougher as the economy worsens. In April, the Kaiser Family Foundation reported that 33 percent of people surveyed skipped dental care or dental checkups because they couldn't afford them. A 2003 report by the U.S. Surgeon General found that 108 million Americans had no dental insurance, nearly 2.5 times the number who had no health insurance.

Trips to the dentist aren't the only expenses hard-up Americans are skipping. An August report by the Commonwealth Fund found that 72 percent of people who lost their health insurance when they lost their jobs said they skipped needed health care or did not fill prescriptions because of cost.

"People want to believe there's a safety net that catches all of these people, and there isn't," said Dr. Glenn Stream, president-elect of the American Academy of Family Physicians. He noted that it is often young men who are the most likely to lack health coverage.

Dr. Jim Jirjis, director of general internal medicine at Vanderbilt University, said people, like Willis, without access to care often die of conditions that were much more common decades ago.

"He [Willis] might as well have been living in 1927," Jirjis said. "All of the advances we've made in medicine today and are proud of, for people who don't have coverage, you might as well never have developed those."

There are a number of free dental clinics in operation around the country, where dentists volunteer to provide care to those without health insurance. But even if Willis had access to a free dental clinic, Stream said he still may not have been able to get the care he needed for his infection. "The wait is often months at these clinics, and this young man died within two weeks of his problem," Stream said.

Silverstein operates three free dental clinics in the San Diego area. "We're overwhelmed right now," he said. "We can't take any new patients."

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echoandsway 5th-Sep-2011 06:31 am (UTC)
Problem: not even *vaguely* enough free/low-cost dental clinics around anywhere, and people don't know that an infected tooth can kill you. Dental care is definitely treated as something for the privileged in this country. If you want to know what economic class someone grew up in in the US, have a look at their teeth.

There but for the grace...I had a tooth infection like the one described here two years ago, and I knew it was a potentially deadly situation, so (VERY fortunately) I was able to get my parents' help in paying for treatment and extraction.

As for him opting for the pain medication over the antibiotic (just in case anyone wonders about that), well, again, most people don't know a tooth infection can kill you so readily...and the pain can be excruciating. It also comes on pretty damn suddenly, too.
ennifer_jay 5th-Sep-2011 06:32 am (UTC)
If you want to know what economic class someone grew up in in the US, have a look at their teeth.

Yup. I didn't see a dentist until I was 16.
theguindo 5th-Sep-2011 06:35 am (UTC)

I will never understand why dental care is not included in regular healthcare packages. Sure, some of it's cosmetic, but there's a very large, very obvious line between cosmetic dental care and necessary dental care, just like there is between cosmetic surgery and life-saving surgery.

Shit like this should not happen.
romp 5th-Sep-2011 06:54 am (UTC)

I'm not mad for dentists--their record on continuing education sucked last time I looked and I've run into more than my share of liars--but the connection between dental health and the rest of the body should be a no-brainer.
martydressler 5th-Sep-2011 06:42 am (UTC)
I have to get several teeth pulled but can only do it by individual tooth (and with cash) whenever I have the money (read: financial aid) to do it.

boltonlove 5th-Sep-2011 05:45 pm (UTC)
Same. I'm going to get mine pulled on the 24th but I had to wait to save up the money.
magicbulletgirl 5th-Sep-2011 06:42 am (UTC)
Hold the phone. I want to know where they're citing that it costs $80 for a tooth extraction. Wisdom teeth regularly go for at least $200, as they do at least 2 teeth at a time. That's a chunk of rent right there.
martydressler 5th-Sep-2011 06:47 am (UTC)
I want to know this too.

The dentist I use charges between $120-190 (depending on type of tooth + xray & novocaine shot).
lady_lockhart 5th-Sep-2011 06:43 am (UTC)
D= D= D=

As someone who hasn't had health insurance in almost 5 years and has a giant hole in one of their teeth, this scares me.
ahzuri 5th-Sep-2011 06:55 am (UTC)
I have gingivitis so its scary to me too because I know it can fuck my shit up but I don't have the money to take care of it D:
romp 5th-Sep-2011 06:50 am (UTC)
We've been telling these stories for over 15 years, at least. I wish there was a way to force people to LISTEN.

Willis went to the emergency room, where he received prescriptions for antibiotics and pain medications
I can relate to that and it's just the sort of step people who've always had care don't understand. You can go to the emergency room but WTF good is a piece of paper if you can't afford the meds?

I testify about this to Canadians in the hope they understand what they have. Dental care is no longer part of basic health care in BC which is stupid because your mouth WILL affect the rest of you! At least there's coverage for ALL kids in BC. But the right pours millions into convincing Canadians that a two-tier system--a privatized one with the monied--is fine.

Okay, back to the US. I'm glad this made ABC News rather than a leftie source. Whatever helps people realize.
oddityangel 5th-Sep-2011 02:25 pm (UTC)
Man, I wish dental was covered in Ontario.

Ugh, the 'two-tier' system
spidergwen 5th-Sep-2011 06:51 am (UTC)
That's awful. I know my teeth hurt like hell for a while because I had to wait till I got on my insurance before I could even see my dentist to get my wisdom teeth taken out. But like a lot of things recently(involving health care) it's a big long waiting game and weighing ones options.
ahzuri 5th-Sep-2011 06:54 am (UTC)
When I was pregnant I received medicaid and went to the dentist for the first time since I was like 17 or 18 (was 23 at the time)and found out that I have gingivitis, it wasn't covered under medicaid. It would have taken 3 or so visits each costing 300 each so almost 2 years later I still have it. I can barely afford to live let alone get it treated, it worries me all the damn time because I know it can totally screw my health and teeth up but there's not much I can do besides try to brush all the time to keep it under control best I can.
magicbulletgirl 5th-Sep-2011 07:02 am (UTC)
Do you do a daily water and salt treatment? Besides brushing with a toothpaste that prevents gingivitis, that's the cheapest at home thing to do.
If you get the original Listerine, that'll help too.
magicbulletgirl 5th-Sep-2011 06:58 am (UTC)
Ugh, I made a mistake and read the comments.

Also, more article information: The pain meds cost $3 and the antibiotics cost $27.
kitschaster 5th-Sep-2011 07:16 am (UTC)
Ugh. I can't read this anymore. All of this dental talk hits far too close to home.
kitschaster 5th-Sep-2011 07:15 am (UTC)
I remember when I had the choice of pain or antibiotics. Back in 2006, I'm VERY glad I chose the antibiotics, with the belief in mind that the pain will still be there for a few days, but I have dealt with it for several months. I can take a few days, and after that, life will be bearable without Advil anymore.

A year after that, the tooth just decayed and died.

Then the same thing happened again back in August 2010. Again, even though I had horrendous pain, I still chose the antibiotics. This tooth died, too. Then I had a third tooth decide to rear up on me, and I pulled that fucker quickly, rather than let it hurt, and fool my broke ass into thinking I could afford a $600 root canal, and a $400 crown. But yeah, it's just really sad that people go so long with infected, abscessed teeth, and nobody does anything to help them.

Matter of fact, every dental plan I've attempted to get through a company (and health plan), they want you to pay out of pocket, and then they'll pay you back. Oh, because I totally have the monies right now to pay for a $500-$900 root canal. My rent isn't even that damn high. I hate low cost medical plans, that aren't really that damn low cost. ~ragefrothannoyed~
psychesky 5th-Sep-2011 07:27 am (UTC)
My root canal and crown was almost 2000 dollars. I had to take out a health credit card to pay it and it took me 2 years, during which time I couldn't save up any money for anything else so it's a good thing I didn't get another emergency.

That's awful you've had three. D:
dramaturgy 5th-Sep-2011 07:18 am (UTC)
God. Shit like this just makes me ashamed.
psychesky 5th-Sep-2011 07:23 am (UTC)
I got into a huge fight with some asshole on FB about this. He was basically blaming the guy for making the wrong choice of meds, and saying how you won't die without care in this country if you just walk into an ER they have to treat you blah blah and then it devolved into bootstraps. Sad thing is, this guy is in nursing school.

FYI if you live near a Publix they have free antibiotics now. That has really saved me a couple of times, because I can't take the 2 most common ones due to allergies and I was paying about 80 bucks for antibiotics before.

Edited at 2011-09-05 07:25 am (UTC)
kitschaster 5th-Sep-2011 10:44 am (UTC)
1) I have a nursing friend who is EXACTLY this same way. He's a Nurse, and his thing is that the ER will fix everything. Problem is, he doesn't realize it doesn't fix everything, sometimes they give faulty advice, and just throw pain meds at a person, and they don't fix teeth. Period.

Then I bought up Women's health, and how that isn't provided by the ER, either. How I can't go get a prescription of HBC if I'm having frequent, horrible cramps each cycle. That one kind of...threw him. He didn't know how to respond. Then he complained about Obamacare, how he doesn't get paid enough, tax brackets, and other stuff, and I stopped listening.

As for the Publix thing...YAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAY! Thanks for the info! <3
mswyrr 5th-Sep-2011 07:27 am (UTC)
My whole family is without insurance and it makes me rage so hard. It's excruciating when one of us gets a bad tooth. I look at the care people with money receive, and the shit poor people receive and the message is pretty fucking clear: die, poor motherfuckers, die.

gryfindormia 5th-Sep-2011 08:39 am (UTC)
I'm pretty sure Die, motherfuckers, die</a> is their motto.

Then articles like this remind me there are some decent billionaires in the world.
perthro 5th-Sep-2011 08:08 am (UTC)
Can't tell you how many times we almost had lights cut off or ate nothing but rice and lentils to pay for a dentist visit. I had to beg my husband to go after he broke his tooth and his face began to swell. When he became feverish, I knew it was getting to be bad. But we have no insurance, so he refused at first... until he realised that he could die if he didn't. So we just took the costs at the ER. Broken tooth eventually fell out on it's own, not that the ER does dental anyways, but it was the antibiotics we needed. I can't imagine the pain he must have been in.

All for the want of $350 for a dental appointment.
gryfindormia 5th-Sep-2011 08:31 am (UTC)
I read all these comments and realize how lucky I was growing up and even now. I've been to the dentist every six months on the spot since my baby teeth came in. I had my father's insurance in college, which completely paid for my wisdom teeth extraction, all four were impacted. I was blessed with perfectly straight, gorgeous teeth, the kind that get ooohs and ahhhs from dentists, which means I've only ever seen a dentist for a clean-up and minor work. I have a fantastic dentist who went ahead and put sealant on my molars as an adult because she felt that it was silly to only use it on children when adults with very jagged molars have just as much danger of developing caries as kids back there.

What "luck" I have should be a fundamental right to everyone, and it pisses me off how dental care is seen as a fringe benefit for those who can afford it. Sub par oral hygiene and care lead to all sorts of not just oral disease but heart disease, even. Your mouth is one big mucus membrane, all sorts of things enter our bloodstream through there. It's common sense that dental care is just as important as regular medical care.

Our entire health care system is run on basis of treatment and not prevention. If we gave an iota of money and attention to preventive medicine for everyone, our medical costs would be significantly lower, and more attention could be given to those who actually need it. Instead, we let people fester away and then make them chalk up the fortune they'll need to heal themselves.

With my new job I no longer have dental insurance, but I went ahead and got the COBRA dental policy through my old job. I will gladly pay $28/month for my oral health.

With the current budget crisis, our budget for defense went up yet again. And then we wonder why it is said in the world that our people are stupid, paranoid fucks.
dreamoftheday 6th-Sep-2011 05:03 am (UTC)
ia with everything you said about feeling extremely lucky/privileged to have had access to dental care my whole life

I'm still covered under the insurance my dad gets from his job, and I will be for another 6 years or so, at which point I will hopefully have a job with insurance of my own.

But basic health and dental care should be a right, not something that only the privileged can afford...no one should have to die from something this preventable and treatable, especially not in one of the richest countries in the world. :/
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