When the Dentist Won’t See You

June 25, 2012
by Sarah Childress Senior Digital Reporter, FRONTLINE Enterprise Journalism Group

Millions of Americans are ending up in the emergency room instead of the dentist’s chair when they have problems with their teeth — sometimes even when they have insurance.

In our film Dollars and Dentists, which airs tomorrow night, we follow five-year-old Trinity Way and her grandmother Pamela, as they seek help for Trinity’s teeth in a Florida emergency room.

When we first meet the family, Trinity is in severe pain. Her teeth are so infected that the side of her cheek burns warm to the touch. For two years, her grandmother has tried to get her care, contacting 10 different dentists for appointments. Trinity is covered by Medicaid — as all children are by law if they don’t have other coverage. But no one would see her.

Medicaid payouts for dentists are fixed state-by-state, and Florida offers one of the lowest reimbursement rates in the nation. So only 10 percent of Florida’s dentists accept Medicaid, according to Dr. Frank Catalanotto, a pediatric dentist at the hospital at the University of Florida in Gainesville, who spoke to FRONTLINE for the film. He says that means that only about 25 percent of Medicaid-eligible children in Florida actually see a dentist.

Find out what happens to Trinity — and why so many other children end up like her — in the clip above. Then tune in to watch our full film tomorrow on television (check listings here) or online right here, starting at 10 p.m. EST.


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