More than 100 million Americans do not go to the dentist for checkups and cleanings because of the cost. As a result, many go broke trying to afford dental care or suffer from extreme pain. Some die.
Nearly 5 million American children, or one in 16, did not get regular dental checkups in 2008 because their families could not afford it.
Going without dental care can ruin lives.
Louis Morris, 33, of Philadelphia, found out on Saturday while seeing a dentist for the first time in 15 years at a volunteer clinic that his gum infection had worn away at his jawbone, could spread to other parts of his body and wipe out all of his teeth.
Forgoing dental care sometimes is fatal. Kyle Willis, a 24-year-old father from Cincinnati, died from a tooth infection last year because he could not afford antibiotics or to get the tooth pulled out. The infection spread, caused his brain to swell and then killed him.
12-year-old Deamonte Driver also died when a tooth infection spread to his brain.
People end up dying, and these are the most treatable, preventable diseases in the world. Getting access to dental care is particularly tough for low-income adults and children.
"People want to believe there's a safety net that catches all of these people, and there isn't," said Dr. Glenn Stream, president-elect of the American Academy of Family Physicians.
Dr. Jim Jirjis, director of general internal medicine at Vanderbilt University, said people, like Willis, without access to care often die of conditions that were much more common decades ago.
"He [Willis] might as well have been living in 1927," Jirjis said. "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 never have developed those."
There are a number of free dental clinics in operation around the country, where dentists volunteer to provide care to those without health insurance. But even if Willis had access to a free dental clinic, Stream said he still may not have been able to get the care he needed for his infection. "The wait is often months at these clinics, and this young man died within two weeks of his problem," Stream said.
Silverstein operates three free dental clinics in the San Diego area. "We're overwhelmed right now," he said. "We can't take any new patients." (This is the same thing I heard when I called the dental place in our area that works with low income people. They are not taking new patients... They haven't been for three years now.)
What do you think about the facts above? When was the last time you visited the dentist?