If we believed what popular culture showed us, our world would be a very different place. The woods would be filled with magical creatures, you could live in an amazing lofted space in New York City with a job as a waitress (God bless the delusional writers on Friends), and the toothless lovable bum on the corner would be happy with his lot in life. Well, as much as we hope that most of these guys and gals stay fictional, Minnesota took a huge step forward to bring fiction into reality. And Minnesota’s dentists are trying to fight back.
In a letter from the recently formed Dental Access Alliance released June 9th, members urged Gov. Pawlenty to rethink his potential slash-and-burn approach to dental care. You see, the Medical Assistance program (MA) and the Critical Access Dental Provider Program (CDAPP) are in line for cuts and/or obliteration during the ever-popular unallotment process. And after watching the General Assistance Medical Fund go the way of the Dodo, participating dentists and emergency rooms are getting nervous.
The dental care in question insures adults who have the most trouble getting access to dental care, much less dental insurance. Without dental insurance, an annual checkup and cleaning will be pushed to the back burner in order to pay for more immediate needs like food, shelter, and clothing. And if they wait too long, more serious complications could arise. When that happens, many turn to the emergency room. An emergency room; as in, the place without a dentist. Citing recent statistics, the 20-member alliance reminded the governor that there are already over 20,000 visits to the emergency room every year for dental care. They can range from mundane toothaches to much more serious problems. In one instance, cited by Dr. Anthony DeAngelis, (chief of Dentistry at Hennepin County Medical Center) in a separate article, a diabetic patient spent 3 months in surgical ICU because of an infection caused by a tooth. That sort of makes an hour in the dentist’s chair look like a cakewalk. And with more and more evidence that gum disease can affect heart health, oral health has never been more important.
So the health care team at Minnesota 2020 did a little digging of its own. Here are a few numbers we thought would come in handy:
* Average cost for an ER visit for dental work = 450.00-500.00
* Cost for 20,000 people to be seen for dental emergencies = 9 million-10 million
* Average cost of a preventative dental visit = 50.00-135.00
* Cost if 20,000 went for an annual cleaning = 1 million-2.7 million
* Cost of a pair of pliers and a shot of whiskey = 4.00-20.00, depending on the whiskey
* Cost for 20,000 drunk, wrench-wielding Minnesotans to take matters into their own hands = 80,000-400,000
So, to summarize, if Pawlenty really wants to save some cash, he could go the ol’ Civil War route and let everyone have at it. But I don’t know how many people would sign up to fight that battle.
A regular oral checkup and cleaning can prevent a lot more than a cavity. It can prevent infections that can threaten your life. If Pawlenty chooses to remove funding for dental care during the unallotment process, he will show where his priorities are. And the potential monetary losses are far more than would be gained. Let’s just hope that by the time unallotment comes around, the powers that be wake up and smell the potential gum disease.
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