A Personal Story: Dental Issues in the ER – Tina, Corinth

Tina lives in Corinth, Vermont, and is an emergency room nurse at a critical care hospital in the Upper Valley. “I would say in an eight hour shift I tend to see two to three people with dental pain issues…sometimes it’s just pain from a cracked tooth but more often than not somebody has an infection in their mouth. The majority of the people I see don’t have dental insurance and a lot of them use the local free clinic which can take up to six months to get an appointment. It’s just really hard, so they end up in the emergency room to get antibiotics for their infection…if they have an appointment at the free clinic to get a tooth taken out they won’t take it out if there’s an infection, but they don’t prescribe antibiotics, so people come back to us then, to get antibiotics so they can get the tooth pulled. We see people after they’ve had their teeth pulled who have infections… We’ve had serious infections (where) people are on IV antibiotics because they have a really large abscess in their mouth and it can be really dangerous if it doesn’t get taken care of… It’s really common in the emergency room for us to see people with dental issues… It’s a regular occurrence. I’m never surprised when someone comes with dental pain, and half their face will be swollen. We’ve had to incise people’s mouths to drain out pus from having really bad infections.”

Tina says a lot of the ER patients who come in with dental pain can’t get appointments or don’t have insurance, and it’s very expensive to get dental care. Tina sees a lot of people who aren’t taking good care of their teeth and aren’t as educated about dental hygiene. But she also says it’s common to see middle class people who don’t get benefits through their job, and can’t afford to spend $1,000 at the dentist. When they have a dental problem, they put off care, and the problem gets worse.

Tina herself falls into this latter category: “When I didn’t have insurance for three years, I didn’t go to the dentist. Lo and behold I go to the dentist, and now I’ve got multiple cavities. I did have to get a crown when I was uninsured and it was $2,000. I had to put it on a credit card I’m still paying off.” Tina now has insurance that only pays for half of her dental work, and she still has work she hasn’t had done because she is saving the money to pay for it.

Tina thinks that the Dr. Dynasaur dental program is great and that we’re lucky to have it in Vermont. But she also notes that a lot of people don’t start to get cavities until their twenties, so lack of insurance for adults is still a problem. Tina, herself, pays $700 a month for health and dental insurance for her family of five, and she works 40 hours a week to get those benefits. “It’s really pretty ridiculous…. I’m not that happy about it. Because it seems like a lot of money that I’m spending for services that I don’t render… I do a lot of preventative things at home so I don’t actually use it. It’s good to have it, but it seems like a lot of money to pay for something I don’t use very often.”

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