Lack of Dental Care Can Kill You
Under the headline “Man Dies From Toothache, Couldn’t Afford Meds,” ABC News reports,
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.
“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.”
The problem’s actually worse than that, however. Dental care is inordinately expensive even for those of us with outstanding medical insurance. I’ve generally been fortunate to have both dental coverage and good teeth but routine dental procedures like getting a crown put on a broken tooth can cost hundreds of dollars beyond what the insurance covers. X-rays are often not covered and seldom adequately covered. That’s mildly annoying for those of us making a decent living; it’s cause for making hard choices for most people.
Additional, what’s not widely understood is that turning 65 means that even people with Cadillac dental insurance are screwed. People are almost always forced off the plans they had in their working years and into Medicare–which carries no meaningful dental coverage. It’s a truly bizarre system.
UPDATE: The combination of the awkwardness of commenting on a young man’s death and using it as a hook to make a point about my pre-existing thoughts about the state of dental care in America led me to skip over the obvious. As both Matt Yglesias and Donald Douglas point out, Willis made a horribly poor choice here; obviously the antibiotics take precedence over pain meds. Further, as Lonely Conservative notes, one can get prescriptions filled at Wal-Mart and elsewhere for as low as $4. There were alternatives here.