Mainers need consistent dental care

Mainers need consistent dental care

Dentists’ annual free clinics are a gift, but it will take legislative funding to ensure that thousands of Maine adults get regular services.

Last Friday’s winds blew cold as folks lined up outside dental offices, each uninsured and anxious to get treatment at no cost. For 11 years now, Dentists Who Care for ME has held free clinics offering cleanings, fillings and extractions. Professionals volunteer their time and have provided oral services to over 4,000 uninsured patients in the first 10 years of the one-day-a-year program. What a compassionate gift of time and skill!

Aware that many of our fellow Mainers, including many on MaineCare, lack access to dental care and worry about their teeth, a few of us decided to talk to as many in line as were willing. I heard stories of their pain from broken teeth, untreated cavities and infections that took them to the ER. Some told me they were missing work to wait, and would be docked for coming in late. They said job interviews are tough; dicey teeth are a turnoff, almost a disqualifier.

Inside, reassuring volunteer receptionists took names, gave instructions about forms and sorted patient needs. Sadly, not everyone could be treated; too many were turned away.

Health care, oral care included, is a human right. Good oral health is critical to avoid serious, systemic illness. Funding for a bill providing comprehensive dental care for adult MaineCare recipients is waiting for the next legislative session. Forty-eight people spoke in favor of this bill last session. It passed – but more voices, yours included, are needed to get L.D. 1453 funded.

One-day-a-year dental care is not enough. Thousands of Mainers are waiting to uncover their smiles.

Peggy Marchand, Gorham

Peggy is an active member of the Southern Maine Workers Center and its Healthcare Is A Human Right campaign.  She is a frequent speaker and a tireless advocate for universal healthcare.