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100 Million Without Dental Care


Mike Bush suffers from schizophrenia and is unemployed. His health insurance program, MassHealth, cut its budget dramatically in 2010, eliminating critical dental benefits from Mike's plan. Since then he has struggled to find affordable dental care and now eats just one meal a day to avoid chewing because his teeth are in such bad condition. A 2011 meta-analysis in the British Journal of Psychiatry found that Mike is not alone: People with severe mental illness have significantly higher rates of tooth decay and are 3.4 times more likely to lose all their teeth than the general population. PBS FRONTLINE and the Center for Public Integrity explored the problems Americans face paying for and accessing affordable dental care. Their video, Dollars and Dentists, exposes what they call a "dental care crisis": more than 100 million Americans don’t go to the dentist because they can’t afford it. Many people find that when they do seek care, some dentists are offering gradual payment plans or even presenting them with credit card applications to cover the cost of their services. Consumer journalist Trudy Lieberman offers a caution against signing up for some of the credit card deals offered before looking closely at the bottom line. Trudy says:

While special offers and low interest rates have worked well for many car buyers, having special financing to string out health care costs is less likely to be a good value. In order for health care 'deals' and offers to work for consumers, patients first have to have access to a range of treatment costs from various providers, and then, if necessary, make choices about payment plans. Otherwise, it is all too easy to pay too much and get too little in return.

Do I Have to Go to the Dentist?, a feature article from the Center for Advancing Health's Prepared Patient® series, offers advice on paying for dental care, tips from the American Dental Association on starting oral care early and questions you should ask your dentist. It also provides tips on how to get around other barriers to dental care, like getting time off of work and finding a dentist.

More Blog Posts by Trudy Lieberman

author bio

Trudy Lieberman, a journalist for more than 40 years, is an adjunct associate professor of public health at Hunter College in New York City. She had a long career at Consumer Reports specializing in insurance, health care, health care financing and long-term care. She is a longtime contributor to the Columbia Journalism Review and blogs for its website,, about media coverage of health care, Social Security and retirement. As a William Ziff Fellow at the Center for Advancing Health, she contributes regularly to the Prepared Patient Blog. Follow her on twitter @Trudy_Lieberman.

Tags for this article:
Oral Health   Inside Healthcare   Get Preventive Health Care  

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January 27, 2014 at 10:14 AM

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