By Stephanie Guler - Senior Content & Social Media Developer | December 16th, 2011
With all of this recent talk about affordable health care, there are still some tragic patient stories that shed light on just how big this problem really is.
ABC News reported in September about a 24-year-old Cincinnati, Ohio father named Kyle Willis, who lost his life because he couldn’t afford basic dental care.
Willis’ problems began when his wisdom teeth started to hurt just two weeks before his untimely death. His dentist prescribed a wisdom tooth extraction, but Willis couldn’t pay for it.
After all, he was unemployed and without health insurance coverage.
ABC stated that Willis decided to visit the emergency room after the swelling in his face and his aching head were too much to bear. The ER doctors gave him a prescription for antibiotics and pain medication, but he couldn’t pay for both, so which one did he choose?
The pain pills, of course.
Because Willis chose pain-reducing medication over infection-fighting antibiotics, the infection in his tooth spread to his brain, causing it to swell up, and ultimately killed Willis just two weeks after his initial dental exam.
The tragedy the Willis family has faced brings a stark reminder of how important it is to maintain good oral health, and maybe even more significantly, the catastrophic consequences of not being able to afford basic health care.
Unfortunately, this story isn’t the first, and it most certainly won’t be the last, as the United States government continues its debates on health care reform.
Providing citizens with basic, preventable health care should be a main priority for governments, but even in 2011, many people still go without.
This past summer, a National Research Council survey found that millions of people in the United States lack access to dental care. The report stated that a whopping 33 million Americans live in areas that are under served by dental health professionals, 4.6 million children went without dental checkups in 2008 because their families could not afford them, and in 2006, almost two-thirds of retirees (62%) did not have adequate dental coverage.
Unfortunately for Willis, he was just one of millions without health insurance.
Dr. Irvin Silverstein, a dentist at the University of California at San Diego told ABC, “People don’t realize that dental disease can cause serious illness. The problems are not just cosmetic. Many people die from dental disease.”
In the same article, ABC mentioned a similar story from 2007, when 12-year-old Deamonte Driver also died after a tooth infection spread to his brain. Before his death, he had two surgeries and a six-week stay in the hospital that cost $250,000; a major problem that could have been prevented with a simple $80 tooth extraction. If Driver’s family had insurance, his life would have been spared.
Dr. Silverstein said, “When people are unemployed or don’t have insurance, where do they go? What do they do? People end up dying, and these are the most treatable, preventable diseases in the world.”
Lack of access to affordable dental exams, orthodontics, and dental surgery isn’t the only problem facing the American people. ABC also reported that 72 percent of people who lost their health insurance skipped necessary health care and medications solely because of cost.
Dr. Jim Jurjis, director of general internal medicine at Vanderbilt University told ABC that people, like Willis, who cannot afford health care “often die of conditions that were much more common decades ago.”
He mentioned, “He [Willis] might as well have been living in 1927. All of the advances we’ve made in medicine today and are proud of, for people who don’t have coverage, you might as well have never developed those.”
Sad, isn’t it?
For one of the most advanced, powerful countries in the world, people are still dying of dental diseases that claimed lives almost a century earlier. There should be no excuses for tragic stories like those of Kyle Willis, Deamonte Driver, and many others; so, where is the solution?
Dr. Glenn Stream, president-elect of the American Academy of Family Physicians told ABC, “People want to believe there’s a safety net that catches all of these people, and there isn’t.”
Maybe not in the United States, but there certainly are plenty of affordable health care options elsewhere; patients just have to be willing to take a vacation to get all of the benefits.
Or you could spend months wishing your dental issues would disappear; a strategy that didn’t turn out well for Willis or Driver.
Patients Beyond Borders author Josef Woodman wrote a recent Huffington Post article about the benefits of receiving medical care overseas. He stated, “Cutting your health care costs requires letting go of the helplessness many of us feel when contemplating a trip to the doctor or facing a medical procedure. Although taking charge of your health care options may seem intimidating, you will be in good company. The path is surprisingly well-traveled by informed, proactive patients who agree that creative, perhaps against-the-grain thinking can lead to a healthy, financially sound outcome.”
To learn more about affordable dental care options, find a dentist worldwide.
This article was written by the medical research team at WhereismyDoctor.com
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