Dental health has long been considered “optional” or an “extra” when it comes to health insurance. Just having insurance for dental procedures made you a lucky person; having good dental insurance that actually helped with the cost of expensive procedures (such as root canals and crowns) was like hitting the jackpot.
With the recent recession, dental health has fared even worse. People who lost their coverage along with their jobs are turning to safety net clinics, which were already overwhelmed with clients who never had dental insurance. Some states offer dental insurance to qualified applicants, but even that is dwindling.
States are feeling the sting of the recession when it comes to their budgets for dental insurance. According to NPR, California dropped 3 million people off of their dental plan 8 months ago due to budget cuts. The consequences of this? People are thronging to safety net clinics, which are struggling just to stay afloat in the economic downturn. Folks are turning up at these clinics swollen gums and infected teeth – problems that might have been avoided had they had access to regular cleanings. Instead of preventative care, people are forced to get teeth pulled because they can’t afford the expensive root canals and other treatments.
Public health has been pushing oral hygiene for several years now, since studies have linked oral health to diabetes, stroke and heart disease. It is clear that dental health should not be considered optional, an extra or a luxury. I believe health is a human basic right – and this includes dental health.