May 20, 2019 by MJ Lacourse

Dental Care Is Healthcare And Healthcare Is A Human Right

The Maine legislature is considering a bill that would provide access to basic dental care for adults and children on MaineCare. “An Act To Improve Dental Health for Maine Children and Adults with Low Incomes” (LD-1453) would be an important step forward for Maine. As someone who’s been impacted by not having access to dental care I’d like to share my own experience and why dental care is so important.

Growing up I was covered under my parents dental insurance and in my late teens I had a bridge installed after my dentist extracted a molar that never fell out. The dentist recommended a bridge, and thankfully the costs were mostly covered under my mothers dental insurance. As it turns out, bridges don’t last forever, and about 6 years later the bridge fell out, leaving only one side of my mouth functional. When they installed the bridge, they filed down the teeth on either side of the extracted tooth to hold the bridge in place. After the bridge fell out, these teeth were particularly vulnerable to decay and infection because most of the enamel had been filed away when the bridge was installed.

It’s been about 13 years since I’ve had dental insurance and when my bridge fell out, I waited to see a dentist because it would have been a financial stretch just to get it looked at, let alone whatever it would cost to fix. When I finally did see a dentist they told me it would cost about $4,000 dollars to replace the bridge, which would include some work to fix the exposed teeth. There was no way I could afford that, and so my only option was to continue without the bridge, and risk additional problems with my exposed teeth. Soon enough, one of the exposed teeth got infected and had to be pulled. It took a week for the pain to be bad enough for me to setup an appointment with my dentist, again because it was a financial stretch, because I didn’t have dental insurance.

I brush everyday, I floss a couple times a week, yet I was constantly worried about my dental health after my bridge fell out. I can no longer use the right side of my mouth. If I had access to basic dental care I could have seen a dentist immediately after my bridge fell out, I could have scheduled routine cleanings and checkups, I might have been able to afford getting the bridge repaired or replaced, and I certainly would have avoided the excruciating pain that came with waiting longer than I should have to get the infection looked at.

Not having access to basic dental care when on MaineCare leads to frustrating and painful experiences. It can turn small dental issues into major ones that can lead to other health complications and exponentially higher costs. One out of every three low income Mainers have experienced discriminations based on the appearance of their teeth. This gap in MaineCare bolsters some of the worst ways that classism shows up in Maine. As Sarah Smarsh puts it: “the underprivileged are priced out of the dental-treatment system yet are perversely held responsible for their dental condition.”

We can do better. The state of Maine should pass LD 1453, “An Act To Improve Dental Health for Maine Children and Adults with Low Incomes”, and join the majority of other states around the country in providing dental benefits to people on MaineCare. Dental care is health care and health care is a human right!

Thank you.

Mike Lacourse
Member & Organizer
The Southern Maine Workers Center
Portland, Maine