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Dental Professionals Speak Out About America’s Care Crisis

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Dental professionals from across the country are reacting to last night’s Dollars and Dentists, expressing concerns about — and offering solutions to — the dental coverage gaps in their communities.

Here’s a sampling of the Tweets, Facebook comments and reactions we received on our website:

Sean Nickens commented on our site about a unique partnership where he lives:

… Our local dental association teamed up with the largest hospital in the area to pre-screen patients based on income and if qualifications are met they and their families will receive dental care at a private practice assigned to them. 80% of the dentists in our county signed up to “adopt” 10 patients each and we are donating a significant amount of care to a lot of folks that were underserved in the past.

In another comment, Nickens talks about the problem of low reimbursement rates for Medicaid patients:

… Reimbursements for medicaid are so low dentists lose money treating medicaid patients. They are not allowed to charge a little more to at least break even, so it becomes a take it or leave it deal. There are countless hours of charitable dentistry donated around the country but it obviously is a drop in the bucket when compared to the need that exists.

“REAL DENTIST” left a comment discussing the costs of dental school and running a private practice:

I am a practicing dentist for over 14 years and I can say I am not a fan of corporation dentistry. However, what people need to understand is that my overhead is 70%. Could you imagine starting a business that has that kind of overhead? I admit that I should have been aware prior to dental school (160K in debt in 1996) that this is the case but I was not. Also keep in mind dental insurance has not changed their benefits of $1000-1500 since the late 1960s. So as a dentist it is very tempting to just sell off the practice that needs 24 hours of constant attention and instead work for a big corporate owned place that lets me go home at 6 p.m. and not think about business…so I understand why these are around. This program made it seem as all dentist are greedy. I know most dentist give back more than all my physician friends who make a lot more money and have zero overhead. Every time I see a patient it costs $40 just to set up (sterilization etc.) and then I have to pay staff. How am I going to do an extraction for $75 when it could possibly be life threatening. It’s just not worth it . The system is broke[n].

On Facebook, Amy Randolph elaborates on the tough spot many dentists are in due to debt and expenses:

It’s a catch-22. Most dental practitioners genuinely care about people but they also have to pay some hefty bills. As a pre-dental student headed into professional school, dental school alone will cost $200,000. That doesn’t include the cost of the undergrad degree which is another$ 100,000. Then of course you have to factor in malpractice insurance which is extremely high due to our sue-happy society. If the cost of education and insurance wasn’t so high, I think dentist would be able to bring the cost down for everyone else …

Also on Facebook, Doo Lim, a dental student, offered his experiences in school and has some suggestions on care alternatives:

I’m a dental student from California about to start treating patients in a month. Growing up, my family and I irregularly went to the dentist since the cost was so expensive. … I can relate to how frustrating dentistry can be from a patient/customer’s perspective.

The high cost of dentistry is brought on by many factors: the high cost of American dental education (I’ll graduate with over $500,000 in debt — try that for a 24 year old), expensive dental products and materials, and a premium on esthetics in today’s society.

But if you’re still concerned about cost, here are some tips from somebody who’s still learning the ropes: there are alternative methods to treating every problem, there is almost always a cheaper route. Instead of the private practice, try the local dental school. White teeth doesn’t mean healthy teeth, set aside bleaching for the end. Take good care of your own teeth, brush and floss EVERYDAY. Be responsible for your children’s health, teach and stress dental hygiene from an early age. Be consistent with your checkups, once every six months is a lot cheaper in the long run than tons of work every few years.

There are a lot of tough problems with dental and medical services in this country, but dentists generally want to help you. Don’t be scared of coming to us, be healthy and visit your dentist!

Robert Monroe Jr., on Facebook, also expresses the need for more personal responsibility when it comes to caring for your mouth:

Good program but we can’t put all of the onus on dentists and dental clinics. I work in a dental clinic and I meet people everyday who don’t take care of their teeth or don’t provide basic dental care for their children. I have met people who haven’t brushed their teeth in 5 years or who don’t brush or make their children brush their teeth simply because the child doesn’t like to. …

Dental student Gary Bedrosian Tweeted about the need for more flexible job duties:

And “Public Health Dentist,” in a comment, issues a call to action, saying that bad dental care is the tip of the iceberg:

Clearly corporate dentistry found a niche in our tattered safety net, and the American Dental Association as usual will find itself on the defensive rather than the offensive: which should be serving the needs of all dental patients and representing ethical dentists. Many private practice dentists would never consider treating a patient who could not afford their care, understandably, they can’t run a business based on that model. For those of us as providers of public health clinics, we have accepted meager pay and conditions, to treat the underserved. I recognize why I attended dental school everyday when I help the poor. When organized dentistry wakes up to the fact that we have segregated our patients, the haves and the have nots; and this has contributed to the decline in the oral health status of this country, then we can share in a dialogue that could possibly remedy this situation. We must wake up and realize that the prime symptom of poverty and despair in this country is first seen in the status of our patients oral health. It unravels from there: pain, infection, unemployability, ie. poverty sustainability.

If you missed last night’s Dollars and Dentists broadcast, you can watch it here, and read our joint stories with reporting partner Center for Public Integrity on “Patients, Pressure and Profits at Aspen Dental” and how “Complaints About Kids’ Care Follow Kool Smiles.”

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