Generations of Vermonters Describe the Need for Affordable Dental Care

Vermont Bernie Buzz

More than 1,200 people from Vermont and throughout the U.S. have shared their experiences with Sen. Bernie Sanders of trying - often in vain - to find affordable dental care. Difficulties with obtaining affordable dental care are not limited to a particular age group. The Vermonters who sent the senator their stories ranged from the people in their 20s to those in their late 70s.

"I think dental care for all is a must. I myself do not go to have my teeth fixed because I, like many others, cannot afford it," Nancy, 64, of St. Albans, Vt., wrote. "I have several teeth that are in need of desperate repair for many years now."

Sanders, who chairs the Subcommittee on Primary Health and Aging, is seeking information about the status of dental care in Vermont and America in preparation for a hearing that he will hold on this issue. Primarily, he would like to learn if dental care is accessible and affordable to those who need it.

Many of the people who shared their story said they haven't seen a dentist in years, mostly because they have endured stagnant wages, lost jobs and face a long lists of other expenses, including: lingering school debt, high gas prices, prescription drugs and rent.  Others say they can't afford reliable transportation to get to the dentist's office.

Clearly, dental care is unattainable for far too many. A common theme running through many of the stories is that dental care should be part of health insurance.

"The overwhelming demand for dental service is proof that people are struggling to pay for basic expenses -- fuel, housing, and groceries --  and can't afford the added expense of taking care of their teeth," Sanders said. "At a time when so many are struggling, we must continue to fight to ensure dental care is available for all people, regardless of income or ability to pay."

The difficulty of obtaining dental care prompted one 54-year-old Vermonter to write: "I would simply ask the question, Is dental care a part of health care? I think that any health care professional would say, yes it is."

A few of the stories submitted by Vermonters are posted below:

Crystal, 25, from Middlebury, Vt. writes:

"I have not had dental care since I was 18. I am now 25.  Some of my wisdom teeth have already come in. It has been painful and may compact my other teeth which could lead to the loss of teeth eventually. It is simply too expensive for a new graduate with 90k in student loan debt."                                                                  

Heather, 35, from East Fairfield, Vt. writes:        

 "I have needed to have my wisdom teeth removed for over ten years now, but cannot afford to have it done. I am a married mother of four and had the surgery scheduled for this March, but my husband was laid off from his job and we lost our dental coverage. Thankfully, we have Dr. Dynosaur for our children because we wouldn't be able to afford dental care any other way."                                                 

Francis, 54, of Jamaica, Vt. writes:

"Dear Senator Sanders, I am a 54 year old self employed individual. Now more than ever it is difficult to afford dental care. I will spend over $1000.00 this month to maintain my teeth. At this time with the downturn in business it is hard to pay for the basics and the additional burden that both the cost of health care and dental care could put me out of my home here in Jamaica Vermont.  ...  Eventually I will be forced to go without health care to take care of my teeth. In conclusion I would simply ask the question, Is dental care a part of health care? I think that any health care professional would say, yes it is. In my opinion my health care policy should cover my dental as well as other services."

Laurie, 55, of Pownal, Vt. writes:         

"Dear Bernie, My husband and I are both employed and have health insurance.  We do not have dental coverage.  We would like to visit the dentist, but the cost is prohibitive.  We have an income that does not provide for extra spending.  With the high cost of fuel and food, we cannot afford dental care. "                 

Karen, 58, of Rutland, Vt. writes:

"I have long had dental problems due to pregnancies. I lost 5 major teeth in the back of my mouth after one of my sons' birth. Resulting in not being able to chew my food correctly, I now have a lot of problems with stomach acid. It requires a lot of acid to digest food that isn't properly chewed. So now I have upper dentures and no bottom teeth in the back of my mouth. So I still can't chew properly. I really need to have the last 4 front bottom teeth pulled and replaced with a bottom denture. BUT who can afford that? I live on SSD and barely am able to pay for my bills, rent and meds."                          

Jaki, 60, of Brattleboro, Vt. writes:

"Not having access to affordable dental means that I do not have dental checkups and I put off going to the dentist as long as I can stand it.  I have two teeth that I nurse along, hoping I can have them looked at before the nerve dies.  My husband broke one of his back molars and hasn't done anything about it yet, because he is still paying off an old hospital bill and hasn't even started paying the $500 deductible for an emergency room visit for three stitches ($1200 for THREE stitches!)  on a gash in his hand.  He wouldn't have gone to the emergency room if he hadn't been worried about bleeding all night. (And he uses his hands in his trade.) But if he knew it was going to cost so much, he would have taken his chances!"       
Nancy, 64, St. Albans writes:

"I think dental care for all is a must. I myself do not go to have my teeth fixed because I like many others cannot afford it. I have several teeth that are in need of desperate repair for many years now. Terrible to live with teeth like that because it also affects the rest of your well being.                      
Barry, 70, of St. Johnsbury writes:

"Dear Bernie .... This is not to propose a solution but to share a view. Upon retirement I moved for most of the year to Mexico where many dental service are 1st rate.  My daughter, a Tufts graduate student who can access their dental school recently was quoted $2,000 for the extraction of 4 wisdom teeth.  Instead she came to visit for a week, have the procedure done here and returned with significant money remaining ...   Why is that?  What are the influencing factors?  I do not pretend to know all the factors.  Would be interesting to learn."
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