Laura Ashton hasn't regularly seen a dentist in almost 14 years. She has gingivitis, a broken tooth, a cracked tooth, and little chance of relief -- few area dentists accept her disability and Medicare coverage.
Out of options, she dialed her senator. "I'm sure at some point I will be losing most of my teeth," she told Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt.
Sanders had heard that story before. In fact, a quarter of adults aged 65 and older lose nearly every natural tooth in their mouth. That's one reason why the senator asked his constituents to flood his phone lines with stories of their dental woes -- he wanted them to build his case for more comprehensive U.S. dental care.
On Feb. 29, Sanders -- chairman of the Senate Subcommittee on Primary Health and Aging -- convened a hearing on the matter and released a report with some pretty startling statistics: More than 47 million people live in places where it is difficult to access dental care. In 2009, nearly 17 million low-income children didn't see a dental care professional. Low-income adults were almost twice as likely to go without a check-up as higher-income adults. And nearly 9,500 new dental providers are needed to meet the country's current oral health needs.