The Guardian: ‘Your mouth becomes a minefield’: the Americans who can’t afford the dentist

Pandemic job cuts have meant many more people have no insurance to pay for dental work – and the poorest are hardest hit.

The following is an excerpt from a story by Michael Sainato published by The Guardian on May 4, 2021.

Maureen Haley, 66, lost her home in Florida in the wake of the 2008 recession. She now lives in a camper near Greensboro, North Carolina, relying on social security and Medicare to make ends meet and pay for healthcare. But Haley has problems with her teeth, and cannot afford to see a dentist to have them fixed.

“My teeth problems are the biggest problem I have each day,” said Haley. “I need root canals and implants. I have a tooth impaction. I have to massage the heck out of it to get the air out of my gums and cheek after chewing a meal. Painful is an understatement, and the worry of how this may affect my heart compounds it.”

She worries about remaining independent, and not ending up in a nursing home. On a limited income, her decisions revolve around what is most pressing, such as fixing her vehicle and drug prescriptions. The last time she was able to visit a dentist was three years ago, and she was given an estimate of over $8,500 for the work she needs.

Haley is one of millions of Americans who have no dental insurance coverage and cannot afford to pay out of pocket for extensive dental care needs, including nearly two-thirds of Medicare beneficiaries – about 37 million people. An estimated 74 million Americans have no dental insurance coverage. A survey by CareQuest Institute for Oral Health released in April found an estimated 6 million Americans lost their dental insurance during the pandemic.

The disparities in oral health in the US are prevalent among racial and economic lines, with Black, Hispanic and lower-income Americans experiencing higher rates of tooth decay, gum disease and oral cancer, as more than half of Americans avoid or delay healthcare, including dental care, because of high costs.

Read the full article: ‘Your mouth becomes a minefield’: the Americans who can’t afford the dentist 

Learn more: CareQuest Institute designed and commissioned a nationally representative survey of consumer and patient attitudes, experiences, and behaviors on oral health. Review survey findings referenced in this article.