Chipped a tooth? You may be out of luck.
While still relatively new to Vermont, a simple tooth abscess turned into a major complication for a pregnant Kiah Morris, now 38 years old.
Three years ago, her obstetrician told her it was imperative to treat the abscess for the sake of her unborn child, yet Morris had Medicaid coverage, and not all dentists accepted the insurance.
Desperately Searching for Help
She searched around the New England area to find a provide, including calling advocacy groups, ultimately finding a dentist over an hour away who would take her. But, even then, Medicaid only covered certain treatments.
“There were no other mechanisms other than to just pull [my] teeth,” Morris says.
By the time she found a dentist to care for the infection, it had already spread to her lymph nodes and part of her skull. It also required more expensive testing such as CAT scans, antibiotics as well as the increased risk to her unborn child.
Morris was frustrated because she’d actually been diligent about getting Medicaid coverage. She had already found out how frustrating finding good dental care was without coverage earlier that year.
Just after she moved from Chicago to Vermont to work for two non-profits, she needed a dentist immediately. Only one of her two part-time jobs offered dental insurance, but the high premiums kept her from purchasing it.
“I had a dental emergency and needed a root canal, and couldn’t find anyone who could do it,” she says. “There was nothing available, and I didn’t have any options. I checked all over town.”
She found a dentist 45 minutes away in a neighboring state who would perform the procedure at a discounted price—but still, hundreds of dollars that she couldn’t afford. An advocacy group, Modest Needs, helped her with a grant to afford the cost of the root canal.
“There really are no [avenues] for people, even those who are working in the social services field,” she says.
Dental Care: Just As Important
Morris’ issue is reflective of a larger one in Vermont as a whole. There are 385 dentists in Vermont for 626,000 people, but as Morris says, “Most have one foot into retirement” and aren’t taking new patients.
Vermont is not unique. Urban neighborhoods and areas such as New Mexico and Alaska are also feeling the shortages.
For more about dental care during an emergency, go to theGrio.com.