In Monied Conn. Suburb, A Dearth of Affordable Dental Care

Monday, August 20, 2012

Alison Patnick warns that her mouth is especially sensitive today — with a new infection in her cheek, in addition to her year-old toothache and her usual hair-trigger gag reflex.

She grimaces as Dr. Greg Busch prods the area.

"It's an abscess, isn't it?" Patnick asks.

"Yes it is," he says.

Patnick, a British immigrant who lives in nearby Stamford, Conn., is one of several dozen people from around the region who converged on Old Greenwich Dental Associates on Friday for a free exam, extraction or filling.

With a median household income of $161,000, Old Greenwich is among the richest towns in the country. But Busch says the South Bronx and rural Kentucky aren't the only places where people aren't getting adequate oral healthcare.

"There’s people everywhere who don’t have a job and don’t have the insurance," Busch said. "And people end up in pain, and they need to have something done, and some of those people are from Greenwich and Norwalk and Stamford and Bridgeport."

This is true even in a state where almost eight out of 10 adults have seen a dentist in the last year, a higher rate than anywhere else in the country, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

(Photo: Stephanie Lagos, 28, from Greenwich, heard about the free dental clinic from a friend. She was recently laid off, when business slowed down at the lawn care company where she was an office assistant. Fred Mogul/WNYC)

Many of those who came for the free clinic previously had good dental coverage, but lost it when they lost their jobs.

Unlike most people here, Patnick actually does have dental insurance, but it's so minimal, that as far as her toothache is concerned, she might as well be one of the more than 100 million Americans without it.

Patnick used to be the office manager for 30-person law firm. She now works for a temp agency and hopes to find something better soon -- before she uses all her money up on two root canals, an extraction and deep periodontal scaling, an estimated $6,500 worth of treatment.

"I’m making 20 percent of what I used to make and paying for these very minimal benefits," Patnick said. "But I’m happy to have something and happy to be back in the workforce, and I hope it springboards me onto the next thing and back to where I was."

Busch is doing the annual free care day for the second year in a row through a program called Dentistry from the Heart.

"It’s a good turnout," he said. "I’ve had a lot of people coming in and just thank us, and that’s the most important thing."


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Comments [6]

Gary W. Vollan L.D. from Basin, Wyoming

More Diversity Needed on State Dental Boards for Meeting Oral Healthcare Needs

Instead of state dental boards operating to educate its citizens of professional etiquettes, complaint procedures for consumers, and some type of professional guarantee for consumer satisfaction of state board disciplinary action; state dental boards operate with professional protectionism, with little or no transparency of consumer complaints or rule changes filed; monopolistic jurisdiction over would be competitors, suppressing innovative opportunities for its state citizens, along with it all being classified under a bogus “protection” clause. State dental boards have too many dentists on state dental boards protecting their own interests with only one or two ordinary citizens protecting the public’s best interest for an alternative, more affordable and progressive dental workforce.

More diversity is needed on state dental boards for oversight of improved consumer protection and meeting oral healthcare needs; better and logical decisions in continued education requirements, expanded duties, and jurisprudence. The acknowledgement of more intrinsic connections between the mouth and the rest of the body should involve a medical doctor on all state dental boards. The dental board should consist of no more than two dentists, one medical doctor, public health specialist and three ordinary citizens. Dental hygienist, denturists, dental therapists should have their own boards with the same composition of two professionals, one medical doctor or dentist, and four others.

The state dental boards should provide simple and clear universal instructions for consumers making a complaint and the complaint process should be hanging in every dental office waiting room across America. In most cases consumers have no idea what the process is for filing a complaint against a dental professional and most consumers of dental care can’t afford the blundered dental care let alone hiring an attorney for help.

There should also be some type of satisfaction guarantee for dental work being done. There are many consumers of dental services who are not happy with the dental work and procedures that were done. This occurs in all phases of dentistry; some more so than others. As a denturist, I specialize in providing removable oral prostheses (dentures) directly to the public. A good number of consumers are unhappy with their dentures. There should be a thirty day or more money back guarantee if the consumer is not satisfied with the denture services. More diverse state dental boards, complaint process in every dental office waiting room and satisfaction or money back guarantee of all dental work done should be the expectation of dental consumers from the American Dental Association and its state dental constituents.

Gary W. Vollan L.D.
State Coordinator; Wyoming State Denturist Assn.,
P.O. Box 332, Basin, Wyoming 82410,

Aug. 22 2012 01:13 AM from Saddle Brook, NJ

All this talk about people not being able to afford going to the dentist because they don't have dental insurance is a bunch of baloney. While it's true that poor people on Medicaid may have to drive 100 miles to find a dentist who will accept that type of insurance, most people can afford going to the dentist once a year for a Check Up, x-rays and a cleaning I for the price they would favor three months of cable TV, maybe even two months if they had a non-insurance discount plan. The question is which do you value more; your dental health or cable TV

Aug. 21 2012 05:06 PM

We need dental care as well as medical care as a basic right for all our citizens. The medical industry is finally recognizing that serious medical problems can be caused by dental or gum problems. The problem with dental is the same as medical: the dentists just charge too much. I had a root canal a few years ago and for less than 2 hours/ work, the dentist charged me $1200. That's $600/hour, and that's absurd. Same for gum problems. I took a cat to a new vet a few years ago and a 10-minute yearly check-up was billed at $85.00. I told the receptionist: you people charge $500/hour? For a check-up? She said of course they don't charge that much, but that assumes we can't do math.

All the professionals in those fields have simply radically increased what they charge because they could get away with it. The problem is that the prices are so high now that people just don't go to the dentist or doctor. And we know the number of abandoned dogs and cats, those never adopted, because people cannot afford to pay the exorbitant fees charged by vets.

This is why we need community organizations of citizens to demand these professionals charge affordable rates. Picket, boycott, write letters to the editor, and these people would quickly reduces their rates or shut down their offices. Either way, find some new people willing to work for reasonable fees, not so insistent on getting rich, but perhaps just a tiny bit committed to helping the people in their community.

Aug. 20 2012 01:18 PM
Truth & Beauty from Brooklyn

It seems as if NO medical care of any kind is affordable any more. It's getting to the point that one needs health insurance for one's pets, as well, as veterinary care is so expensive. And, unfortunately, insurance premiums are high enough that many people can't afford those, either. It is, therefore, in our best interest never to become ill and spend all our disposable income on toothpaste and floss.

Aug. 20 2012 10:25 AM
NJCher from West Orange, NJ

Our people infrastructure is crumbling because we put all our money into war and armaments. Ever see a pie chart of government spending? IIRC, it's around half of our tax dollars. It's probably more than that, though, as billions and billions of Pentagon spending go unaccounted for.

And we all know that money is not necessary to "protect us." It's to keep our tax dollars flowing to a select few so they can stay uber wealthy.

Other countries put their tax dollars back into their greatest resource: their people. Not here. We Americans are being bled dry: first our jobs, now our health.

Aug. 20 2012 09:13 AM

Too bad all us unemployed can't become someone's pet. Then we could get veterinary dental and physical care at 1/4 the cost of human care. ...or it would be nice if we could travel to Cuba - where they also have a great low cost health care system that provides better outcomes than our uber-expensive US system at 1/4 to 1/2 the cost.

...Americans should be SO PROUD that we have the MOST EXPENSIVE health care of any country in the world. GO USA!!!!

Aug. 20 2012 07:32 AM

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