(Los Angeles Times)
Little surprises Nagaraj Murthy, a dentist in Compton for the past 32 years.
He has seen patients who have suffered toothaches for years. Others who haven’t been to the dentist in a decade. Some who can’t chew hard food.
But in the two years since California sharply reduced dental benefits for roughly 3 million Medi-Cal recipients, he and other dentists say the situation has become dire for patients who are waiting until their infections land them in an emergency room or their rotted teeth have to be immediately pulled.
“They aren’t coming until the mouth is completely swelled up or the pain cannot be tolerated,” Murthy said.
Dental care is the oft-ignored cousin of medical care, experts say. Because dental coverage is an optional benefit under the federal Medicaid program for the nation’s poor, several states don’t offer it. Others, like California, have slashed the benefit in recent years, meaning millions nationwide are going without treatment and facing heightened risks of serious and costly health problems like respiratory infections and heart disease.
One-third of Americans reported skipping dental checkups and care because of the cost, according to a Kaiser Family Foundation poll released in April. And a report by the national Institute of Medicine in July said “persistent, systemic” barriers, including lack of insurance and a shortage of dentists, are increasingly limiting people’s access to dental care and exacerbating socioeconomic disparities in public health. The report urged states to include dental coverage for adults with Medicaid and recommended better training so primary care doctors can spot oral diseases.
This morning’s Los Angeles Times article focuses on Californina, but the truth the economy has taken a toll on teeth across the country.
“When someone loses a job and health benefits end, dental care is one of the first things people cut,” explains Dr. Clint Herzog. “We’re seeing patients who’ve put off care for years to save money and unfortunately, something that could have been prevented ends up becoming a dental emergency and costs them a lot more.”
Dr. Clint Herzog has the largest dental practice in the state of Texas with a dozen offices in DFW, Houston and Austin:
Dr. Clint Herzog