Dollars and Dentists
posted June 26, 2012 by Miles O'Brien
This is a crisis you may not wish to think about. After all, who enjoys thinking about a trip to the dentist? On assignment for the PBS documentary series FRONTLINE, I have been thinking about dental care in America for the past year.
And as it goes for so many things in this country, if you are poor, you do not have a lot of options. But this particular hole in our safety net is bigger than most. Think about it: if you are sick or injured in any other place in your body, and you arrive at an Emergency Room, you will likely get treatment. It is not the most efficient way to run a health care “system”, but it does provide a measure of care for folks in need who do not have the means to pay for treatment.
But if you have a toothache when you arrive at the ER, the chances are you will be given antibiotics and pain medication and sent back out the door to go find a dentist. But where? Who will see a child on Medicaid - or the uninsured truck driver living paycheck to paycheck?
They do not have a lot of options. But our free-market system is very good at finding a need and filling it. Private equity backed corporate dental chains are offering services to poor people who are in oral agony. But we found a lot of evidence these chains are pressuring patients into care they may not need.
This is an hour that may be hard to watch for a lot of reasons. But it is an important issue that has not been aired out in a proper public debate. Until now. I hope you will watch tonight – on TV or online. I will be tweeting while the program airs this evening. So join me then – and let’s find a way to solve this problem.