As finances fall, fewer know the drill

February 19, 2009 By Robert Mitchum

Some dentists are warning that, just as the recession has eroded the nation's job and stock markets, it's also causing another kind of decay.

With more families losing dental insurance or facing difficult choices about which costs are essential or expendable, dentists are reporting a sharp downturn in dental care as people decide to put off regular or even emergency visits.

The economic crisis is also exacerbating an already worrisome imbalance between the number of people with public insurance or no dental coverage and the dwindling number of dental clinics willing or able to treat those people, dental health advocates said. In a Chicago Dental Society poll of more than 300 dentists last fall, more than 60 percent said their patients are putting off cosmetic procedures because of the struggling economy. More than half said their patients were putting off dental work and more than 40 percent said that preventive visits were down.

"The economy is being reflected in offices; any (elective) care is being postponed," said Dr. Indru Punwani, head of pediatric dentistry at the University of Illinois at Chicago. "It's happening across the board, people asking, 'Can I delay it for a while?' These are people in the middle classes now."

Dr. Theodore Siegel of Big Smile Dental in Chicago said that he has never seen so many patients turning down their regular appointments in his 25 years of dentistry.

"There are so many now that say 'I just lost my job,' or 'my husband just lost his job, and I need to come in right now but I just can't,'" Siegel said. "It's really bad out there for a lot of people."

The slowdown has been severe enough in some quarters for dental offices to join the legion of workplaces forced to lay off employees, said Chicago Dental Society president Dr. David Kumamoto.

"Not only are people losing dental insurance, some dentists have to let staff go," Kumamoto said. "They're just not busy, it's a trickle-down effect everywhere."

While the waiting rooms at private dentist offices are emptier than usual, the small number of clinics that treat adults and children on public insurance -- or without any insurance at all -- find themselves overwhelmed by demand.

At Howard Area Community Center in Chicago's Rogers Park, where a single part-time dentist sees uninsured, pediatric and HIV patients, the wait for a non-emergency appointment has grown to five months for some patients.

"Our waiting list has never been like this," said Monica Dillon, a registered nurse at the clinic.

Efforts to add a second dentist and chair at the clinic to keep up with the need have also been thwarted by the economy, as grants and donations dry up, Dillon said.

Health advocates worry that care access is an issue for children on public insurance programs such as Medicaid or All Kids, who often face a long search to find a dentist able to accept them as patients.

"The need is tremendous and growing," Punwani said.

The Bridge to Healthy Smiles campaign, a coalition of dentists and advocates seeking improved access to dental care, estimated that there is one public dental clinic for every 8,400 children on public aid in Illinois.

Dominique Johnson, a 24-year-old single mother of two in Chicago's Bronzeville community, learned the effects of that shortage firsthand when she tried to find a dentist for her son, Jacob, who is in the All Kids program.

"It was very, very difficult. I got out the phone book and called 30 dentists, and none of them accepted Medicaid program," Johnson said. "You talk about frustrating; it was no after no after no."

Finally, by accidentally dialing a wrong number, Johnson found a dentist who would take her son _ after three months on a waiting list. Now, that dentist has had to stop taking on new public aid patients, Johnson said, leaving her relieved that she was able to get her children treatment in time.

"We hit the jackpot," Johnson said.

___

(c) 2009, Chicago Tribune.
Visit the Chicago Tribune on the Internet at www.chicagotribune.com/
Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.

Explore further: People with diabetes visit the dentist less frequently despite link between diabetes, oral health

Related Stories

People with diabetes visit the dentist less frequently despite link between diabetes, oral health

April 2, 2018
Adults with diabetes are less likely to visit the dentist than people with prediabetes or without diabetes, finds a new study led by researchers at NYU Rory Meyers College of Nursing and East Carolina University's Brody School ...

Poll: Americans fear crippling medical bills more than illness

March 29, 2018
(HealthDay)—Medical care costs in the United States can be so overwhelming that Americans fear the cost of treatment more than the illness itself, a new poll shows.

Dental woes of an aging population

August 13, 2014
Public health dentist Mark Nehring remembers attending a lecture on geriatric treatment 20 years ago. The speaker offered up slides of a patient with ample evidence of previous dental care: "crowns in place, very good fillings," ...

Higher Medicaid payments to dentists associated with increased rate of dental care among children

July 12, 2011
Children and adolescents from states that had higher Medicaid payment levels to dentists between 2000 and 2008 were more likely to receive dental care, although children covered by Medicaid received dental care less often ...

When it comes to use of dental services, not all New Jersey youngsters are equal

December 12, 2011
When it comes to receiving dental care, New Jersey has its share of underserved children, according to a Rutgers study.

First analysis of dental therapists finds increase in access for children, low-income adults

May 14, 2013
A new report assessing the economic viability of services provided by practicing midlevel dental providers in the U.S. shows that they are expanding preventive dental care to people who need it most: children and those who ...

Recommended for you

Hair products for Black women contain mix of hazardous ingredients

April 25, 2018
A new report published today in the journal Environmental Research shows that Black women are potentially exposed to dozens of hazardous chemicals through the hair products they use.

Mediterranean diet boosts beneficial bacteria

April 25, 2018
Here's another reason to eat a Mediterranean-type diet: It's good for your gut.

Consuming protein supplements with meals may work better for weight control

April 25, 2018
A new systematic review of available evidence appearing in Nutrition Reviews indicates that consuming protein supplements with meals may be more effective at promoting weight control than consuming supplements between meals ...

Potential for sun damage should be carefully balanced with need for vitamin D in children, say scientists

April 24, 2018
Scientists at King's College London are encouraging parents and carers to ensure even more rigorous protection of children against the harmful effects of the sun. The comments follow a study which has suggested that children ...

Millennials aren't getting the message about sun safety and the dangers of tanning

April 24, 2018
Many millennials lack knowledge about the importance of sunscreen and continue to tan outdoors in part because of low self-esteem and high rates of narcissism that fuel addictive tanning behavior, a new study from Oregon ...

People expect their memory to fade as early as their 50s

April 24, 2018
People across the UK expect their memory to worsen in their 50s, according to new research from Heriot-Watt University.

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.