Saturday, July 8, 2017

Teeth for Everyone!

It came in the mail just a few days ago. The deceptively attractive postcard reminding me that it is time for my dental checkup.  Ugh.  I admit I often put this off until something in my mouth is bothering me.  Like many people my mouth is full of fillings, crowns, and root canals.  Last year a tooth had to be pulled and the dentist asked if I wanted an implant.  Since it was one of the very back teeth, I could not tell much difference without it so I passed on that. If they ever have to identify me by my dental records they will have plenty to work with.

Recently, I was visiting a sports venue in Baltimore, Maryland.  It was the sight of the “Preakness” horse race. This had been on mine and my wife’s bucket list so we decided to don colorful hats and take in the festivities just once.  Like many large sports venues, Pimlico Race Course is in an economically impoverished part of town.  As we entered the neighborhood where the course is located, there were decaying homes on either side of the road. Residents were attempting to make some money by offering for you to park in their front yard or by selling some food that they had prepared. 

As we inched along I couldn’t help but notice two residents who were selling bottled water. These individuals appeared to be in their 40’s.  The thing that caught my attention was that neither of these individuals had any teeth.  As I looked around I saw others who, if not completely toothless, had large gaps or maybe just a few teeth. The question arose in my mind, “Why is it that poor people don’t get to have teeth?”

Personally, I cannot attribute my mouth full of teeth to my great dental care habits. Yes, I brush every morning but that is about it.  When the dental hygienist reminds me to floss at least once per day, I smile sheepishly hoping I won’t have to admit that I haven’t flossed since my last visit. A man in my office suite can be seen in the restroom brushing his teeth after lunch each day with an electric toothbrush!  I took a toothbrush to keep in my desk, but it is almost petrified for lack of use. Yet, I can still enjoy chewing meat, eating corn on the cob, and even nuts when I want.

Shouldn’t the ability to chew and thus eat be something that we as a nation would want to strive to provide for every citizen?  If there are basic needs, this is surely one of them.  I happen to have had parents who took me to the dentist even though I protested vehemently.  For so many this is not really an option.  Dental care in America has become a luxury that is often not covered even by ‘pretty good’ health plans. I once had a friend who tried gluing his broken crown back on using Super Glue because he couldn’t afford the visit to the dentist. If people with good jobs have difficulty having their teeth repaired, how can low-income or poor individuals hope to avoid the pain, suffering, and yes, humiliation of having few or no teeth? By the way, the overwhelming majority of such individuals do work and provide services that are essential for our society to function.

When it comes to government efforts to provide for the basic needs of the less fortunate, it is not uncommon to hear a remark like, “Why should I have to pay for this or that for someone else?”  For me, it is not about what we should do. Rather it is about what we want to do.  What kind of country do we want to have? The sad fact is that in a capitalist society, there will be some individuals who fill necessary roles, but who actually make very little money.  How do we want to treat these individuals? I want my country to be a place that wants every person to be able to have teeth!

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  1. Totally agree, Cuz. Our society has become so self-centered and self-serving that we seem to have forgotten the basic requirements of the privilege of living, especially the one about taking care of each other. Altruism, I fear, has become a lost quality, especially among those whose chosen profession is nominally "service to others."

  2. Dear Dr.Brian,

    What an awesome and articulately written post. I had to laugh at our so very similar dental hygiene habits! I, like you, think that floss is something to use when the toothpick doesn't seem to work, or for other household tasks, rarely on my teeth. But, like you, I have been blessed in that my mouth is full of hugely necessary dental work that would easily identify me in a disastrous situation. Never mind that my initial dental care began when I was 14 years old because my parents, as hard as they worked, were not extremely well off. Probably because of childhood sickness, along with those poor habits, my 6 year molars were salvaged just in time to keep me from being one of those "toothless folk" you spoke about, and I am so thankful that my mom, I'm sure, went into debt with her "$10.00 a month plan" if that were possible back then.

    That said, I don't share your sentiment about "teeth for everyone" in the context you presented. Granted, my elderly mom lost a front lower tooth recently and chose not to replace it for the expense involved, even though we, her children would help her and she could even have made her payments to fix it, as she has done so many times over the years. She chose to spend her small amount of income, as a widow, on other things, granted, mostly necessities, but other things, none the less.

    I guess what I'm trying to say is that those "toothless folk" have a choice to both take care of their teeth or not, get dentures (which are relatively inexpensive) or not. My mom decided to go to a discount "clinic-type" dentist Who fixed her right up for just a few dollars recently.

    You see, even though I want to help, we all decide where our priorities are. I imagine those fine people selling water make choices everyday and pay for Hardy Burgers, maybe lottery tickets, maybe they have expensive cellphones, shoes or cars.

    Please understand, I realize there are some impoverished people that will never be able or motivated to get out of their "dependent" situation, as a matter of fact, we now have a whole generation of "victims" who depend on welfare, mostly in government programs, my money BTW, and will never move off this downward and debasing spiral. People choose.

    I have 6 children, was a "stay at home" mom for many years, would I have liked some government help with food, medicine or dental, I think so, sure! But after paying taxes for many years, faithfully and rightly, and seeing the way people abuse the system, and ways the system lets them, I am a fan of fewer assistance programs and more "motivate them to learn to fish" programs.

    If I had my wish, dream and prayer, I vote for programs to train people to work for a decent living and contribute to this great country!

    Will they choose to take care of their teeth and gums? I imagine they have a petrified toothbrush somewhere in their house!

    Join my blog,, and continue the conversation!

    Professional Mom