Let’s face it: Dental care is not a glamorous topic of conversation. That’s why it ends up low on the list of worthy causes. That’s a disgrace.
There’s no one more susceptible to poor nutrition, life-threatening diseases, and absence from school or work, loss of confidence and overall poor quality of life than someone who can’t see a dentist. Lack of care can even be fatal.
How can we prevent these tragedies? How can we avoid dental emergency visits to the ER in San Mateo County?
The answer: Making preventative care the cornerstone of all dental care. Unfortunately, access to dental care is at a premium in the San Francisco Bay Area. It’s often too expensive for lower wage earners who are uninsured and for those dependent on Medicaid.
At Sonrisas Dental Health, we’re working to prevent visits to the ER, and that’s what our Access to Care Program is all about. Our mission is to bridge the gap between receiving quality oral health care and a sorely inadequate health care system. On average, we receive only about 25 cents for each dollar of services we provide to children, adults and seniors who receive Denti-Cal insurance.
Who suffers from a lack of access to ongoing, preventative care? Surprising to many, children are susceptible to tooth decay. Almost 40 percent of San Mateo County's 3-year-olds have untreated cavities and live with significant pain. An astonishing one in four adults, ages 65 and older in the U.S, have lost all of their teeth.
Poor oral health can result in limited job opportunities for otherwise capable adults. Disengagement in the community is another tragic outcome of having unattractive or missing teeth.
Sonrisas Dental Health is among a shrinking group of dentists that accept Denti-Cal. The number of providers has diminished by over 8 percent in the last four years. As a result, fewer people are able to get essential dental care.
The Department of Healthcare Services reports that only 44 percent of Denti-Cal enrollees under the age of 17 visited a dentist in 2017.
“Pain, loss of function, serious illness, and even death result from untreated oral conditions and offer harrowing reminders that the mouth is part of the body and that oral health is essential to overall health,” says Mary Otto, one of the nation’s experts on the subject and author of TEETH: The Story of Beauty, Inequality, and the Struggle for Oral Health in America.
Oral Health is Essential to Overall Health
"Shame is common among the millions of Americans who lack dental care,” Otto notes, citing a study that found that “oral health problems are seen as a failure of individual responsibility rather than misfortune.”
Otto describes the tragic stories of a 12-year-old named Deamonte Driver and a 24-year-old single father named Kyle Willis, both on the East Coast.
In 2007, Deamonte died as the result of an abscessed tooth. He fell through the cracks when his Medicaid paperwork, duly completed and filed by his mother, was forwarded to the wrong agency.
A social worker made more than 20 calls on Deamonte’s behalf to locate a provider who accepted Medicaid. By the time she found one, even two emergency surgeries couldn’t save the boy's life. He died when bacteria from the abscess traveled to his brain.
It would have cost only $80 to extract the tooth. His care at a children’s hospital, which was to no avail, cost somewhere around $250,000.
Kyle Willis died in 2009 because he was uninsured and couldn’t afford the antibiotics that would have cleared up a tooth infection. The antibiotics would have cost $27.
Bridging Barriers to Access
Astonishingly, Medicare doesn’t cover dental services, and seniors who manage to scrape up the money to pay for them can still face insurmountable transportation problems.
Indeed, fewer than half of adults 65 or older in San Mateo County get a yearly checkup; yet oral health issues are strongly linked to cardiovascular and respiratory problems, the two most common reasons for hospitalization among aging people.
Even those with Denti-Cal insurance have slim chances of finding providers who accept it. There are just 13 in all of San Mateo County. In spring of 2018, around 2,000 people were on waiting lists for routine dental appointments. That’s unfathomable.
We believe it takes a community effort to solve this problem and our Access to Care Program is aimed at just that. It allows us to serve the most vulnerable in our community, and it includes Geriatric Dentistry, Disease Prevention Programs, and Mobile Dental Care to seniors, farmworkers, children and patients with special needs.
This fund is based on scientific evidence that first-rate care improves overall health. It reduces all-around health care costs for both needy individuals and the broader public system. Giving, then, is not only compassionate. It also makes good business sense for society and our communities.
Please partner with us at Sonrisas Dental Health by making a tax-deductible contribution now. Your generosity will help us treat patients.