Change Is Needed

I thoroughly appreciated the article “The Painful Truth About Teeth”. It meant a lot to me as someone who is pursuing a career in the dental field. Currently working as a dental assistant I have witnessed many of the frustrations and struggles that patients like Dee Matello are forced to undergo. Many people have this notion that dental care is not a necessity but in reality, it is a basic necessity and an important part of our livelihood. Other than maintaining our oral hygiene to prevent decay and infections, dental care is unique in that it can help transform the quality of life of an individual. I have encountered countless patients who tell me that they are too embarrassed to smile and have not dared to smile in years. Sadly, these are typically the patients who have no insurance or do not have a primary dental provider who accepts their insurance.

As the article states, the problem with dental care comes with the ability to access dental facilities that serve all populations. Dental care is not widely available, even in communities across Western New York. There is a general lack of dentists who accept Medicaid, causing people to travel far distances to receive dental care. The article states that “only about 38 percent of dentists accept Medicaid- about half the rate of physicians- in part due to low reimbursement rates.”  I often will have patients who come from Elmira, or Syracuse, and make the 1-2 hour journey, just to see the dentist. It’s ridiculous, but these people have no other option as Medicaid recipients. The place where I work in Rochester is one of these few dental care facilities that accept Medicaid in the region.

It seems that dental treatment is commonly seen as cosmetic treatment and not as a basic necessity, compared to medical-related issues. As the article states, there are Medicaid programs that offer dental care to children and adults in some states, while in other states, there is absolutely no coverage for adults. While working with treatment plan coordinators, I have come to realize that there is much more to the Medicaid system when it comes to dental procedures. Medicaid only covers a handful of procedures including cleanings/oral exams, fillings, extractions, and anything that falls under “preventative care.” This means that most root canals, crowns, and implants are considered “cosmetic” and patients are forced to pay hundreds of dollars to restore and keep their teeth.

A problem that I see in my workplace (perhaps across the healthcare field) is that people will often treat Medicaid patients very differently from those with private insurance. When we call back patients to the treatment room, their file indicates their insurance. This reminds me of the passage from Medical Apartheid, in which Washington talks about the patient files of men in need of kidney transplants. One such file “noted among other things that he [the patient] was retired, insured, and “Negro.” Nearly every page recorded his race and someone had underlined it on his social profile” (Washington 15). The man that Washington mentions is judged and treated differently due to his skin color. This racial discrimination is no different from this modern-day medical discrimination. People are quick to judge Medicaid patients and might comment, “oh, he’s probably a drug addict”, or “she’s on Medicaid and has a designer bag and IPhone?”. The problem I have with this is that who are we to judge a person based solely on their exterior. We have no information about their life history, their obstacle/hardships, or the circumstances that have caused them to be in this situation. How is it okay for us to judge someone we have only known for a couple of minutes?

It is sad that we seemingly live in this first world country, but “it’s like a third world country”, where only people who can afford treatment receive it. Those like Dee Matello, who are unable to receive healthcare are left to suffer daily, while people who make the effort to receive care and finally have the means to receive it, are judged and treated terribly. The goal for all of us is to receive adequate healthcare in order to live a happy and healthy life, and our country has the means to help us achieve this, yet we still operate and treat people as if they are living in a third world country.

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