Gallery H
Waiting For Health Care
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Going Without Teeth In America

By James Donahue

The last time I went to a dentist was a few years ago when I had an infected wisdom tooth that was making me sick. I went to a regular dentist for a referral to an oral surgeon. The oral surgeon pulled two teeth and soaked me for something like $3,000. The regular dentist got his share just for looking in my mouth.

I had a little money in savings then so I could pay the bill. But it was such an extravagant bill I decided that it was going to be the last dental visit I was going to make in my lifetime. Going to the dentist is for the very wealthy, a social group that I do not belong to.

There was a time when I was young that going to the dentist was feared because it always meant pain. The price was never that bad. I remember not too many years back when getting a cavity drilled and filled cost something like eight dollars.

I was going to that same dentist when my employer began offering dental insurance. It was the first time in my life I had ever had such insurance. So when I went to the dentist to have another cavity drilled and filled, I proudly reported that I had dental insurance. That day my bill was $40 and my co-pay was $20. My personal cost for having a cavity fixed had more than doubled because I had insurance.

When we were in Arizona in 1996 I had a serious tooth ache and went to a dentist in Holbrook, at the edge of the Navajo Nation. That dentist fixed my problem and installed a crown. His bill was $65.

In 2001 after returning to Michigan, I had another tooth ache and went to a dentist to have it fixed. He wouldn’t look in my mouth until I had my teeth cleaned. The cost  of the cleaning was $100. Then the dentist looked in my mouth and called in a specialist to pull the tooth. I paid another $300. My option was a trip to a nearby city to a root canal specialist and then getting a crown. The price was going to be over $3,000. I chose to have the tooth pulled.

Before going into permanent retirement I worked for a while at a weekly newspaper that offered dental insurance. I used the insurance and the money from my job to get as much repair done to my teeth as possible. It involved a couple of root canals, crowns and a bridge.

It wasn’t a month after I retired that the bridge broke and one of the crowns popped loose. I cemented everything back together with crazy glue. The crown held but the bridge only lasted a few months. I now go around without any front teeth so I don’t smile much. And that is hard to do because I have a sense of humor that keeps my funny bone tickled most of the time. Consequently most everybody I know also knows I don’t have any front teeth.

Going around without front teeth used to, and may still have an effect on a person’s social standing in a community. But as more and more people find themselves in the same boat as I am, it is getting quite common to see people, many of them younger than I, also appearing in public without teeth.

What people don’t know is that I don’t have many other teeth either. Those left in my head are either broken or dead from old root canals. Two teeth are broken off so I just have the roots showing. I refuse to pay the high price of having the other teeth pulled and then buy dentures so I am waiting for Obama’s health care package in hopes that it might include dental services.

My options are to go around a toothless old guy who can’t pronounce his words correctly, or go to Canada and get my dental work done there.

I watch the battle raging in Congress and the Senate these days over health care and wonder why these people cannot see what is happening to Americans. They appear blinded by the fact that they have the finest health insurance coverage available anywhere. But the rest of us are going without. Most of us ration our visits to the family doctor to the bare few necessary to keep our prescriptions written. We never go to the doctor because we are sick. That would mean tests, X-rays and other services we can’t afford.

Anyone who believes the lies being dished out by the AMA and big pharma, opposing the government health care plans, is either well heeled financially or a total fool. The rest of us know better.