A Heartbreaking Waste of a Life

I read an abysmally sad story this morning. Deamonte Driver, a 12-year-old impoverished boy in Maryland, died of an infection from an abscessed tooth. His family lives in transient conditions, their Medicaid was canceled, and when it was reinstated the papers were most likely sent to an address where they no longer lived.

The saddest thing about this is that a simple tooth extraction, at the cost of approximately $80, could have saved this child’s life. The appointment was made, but had to be canceled when Deamonte’s mother did not receive notice of the reinstatement of his Medicaid benefits.

There are major problems existing with dental care for poor children. Medicaid dentists are hard to find – the bureaucracy involved makes it unappealing to many practitioners – and transportation is often an issue. The lack of a steady address, and telephone service that is sometimes shut off can also complicate matters.

Cavities are as much a part of childhood as inflamed tonsils. I recall having an appalling number of cavities as a child, and all those ugly silver fillings (which I’ve since had replaced with porcelain!) We were all told to brush after every meal, but the fact is that many youngsters don’t.

Good teeth care is probably one of the most important things we can teach our children. It ranks right up there with courtesy toward other people, money management, and the imporance of education, so one doesn't find oneself in the predicament of Deamonte's mother, working low-end jobs with no health benefits. As a middle-aged woman, I wish that I’d taken better care of my teeth in my younger years, that I’d worn that retainer to hold onto my perfect bite after my braces were removed (an expense that my parents, with five children, could ill afford, and for which I will be eternally grateful, because I had terribly buck teeth.) An irrational fear of the dentist kept me away for a ten-year period back in the Eighties. I brushed regularly to maintain a pearly white smile, and while I developed no cavities, periodontal disease (disease of the gums and bones that hold the teeth in place) had taken hold. This has proven to be quite expensive to treat over the years. My husband jokes that our family has paid the tuition bills for our dentist’s children.

Sure, the kids have had work done, but it’s either routine maintenance, the application of veneer for additional protection, or oral surgery for the extraction of those in-the-way wisdom teeth. They are very good about brushing and flossing, and they’ve been blessed with strong, straight teeth. On the other hand, my husband and I have had abscesses, root canals, crowns, you name it. I could be wrong, but I’m inclined to believe that the problems we’re having now are directly linked to being lazy about flossing and postponing trips to the dentist.

We, at least, have good dental coverage. Little Deamonte Driver was doomed.