Flossy, Flossy

Just in case some of you are looking for an issue worthy of creating petitions and holding media circus events about — lay down your “Frenchie Davis Forever, Antonella Barba Never” and “Down With Norbit” placards for a minute and read this heartbreaking article from the Washington Post.

This twelve-year-old Maryland boy died, basically of a toothache.

A routine, $80 tooth extraction might have saved him.

If his mother had been insured.

If his family had not lost its Medicaid.

If Medicaid dentists weren’t so hard to find.

If his mother hadn’t been focused on getting a dentist for his brother, who had six rotted teeth. By the time Deamonte’s own aching tooth got any attention, the bacteria from the abscess had spread to his brain, doctors said. After two operations and more than six weeks of hospital care, the Prince George’s County boy died.

Deamonte’s death and the ultimate cost of his care, which could total more than $250,000, underscore an often-overlooked concern in the debate over universal health coverage: dental care.”

Every time I look at that picture of that poor little boy, sitting next to his mother, head bowed to reveal the massive scars from his brain surgery, tears of frustration well up in my eyes. I don’t mean to get all political on you guys, but I sincerely hope that in 2008, Americans vote on important issues like health care and education, rather than intentionally divisive non-issues like gay marriage. Because this situation is all kinds of effed-up.

I pray that Deamonte Driver didn’t die in vain. His story really resonated with me, and it brings me to an issue I’ve been meaning to write about for a while now.

So, for my regular readers who may have been thinking “man, Afrobella hasn’t been as on point recently,” here’s why.

On Superbowl Sunday, I broke a tooth on a piece of white chocolate. Strangely enough, although I could see and feel that my tooth had broken in half, it didn’t hurt. Initially, I thought a filling may have fallen out or something. It turns out, two dentists and three consultations later, I had a root canal that had never been finished off with a crown, and that’s the tooth that broke. Now here’s the embarrassing confession: I hadn’t been to the dentist in more than six years.

There were so many reasons to avoid going; lack of insurance when I was a student, a lifelong fear of dentists, and of course, the cost. Dentists are crazy expensive. That’s why they usually drive nice cars and live in nice houses. And besides, my teeth didn’t hurt so they must be fine, right? Right?

Wrong. My anti-dentite attitude had kept me away for far too long. I managed to find a “reasonable” dentist who I felt “comfortable” with, and we had two consultations. One where she looked at my teeth, one where she met with my husband and I to discuss payment. Even if insurance kicks in, our bill will still be more than $4000. It includes quadrant-by-quadrant Novocaine cleanings, root canal repair, two crowns, impacted wisdom teeth, fillings… you name it.

I’ve gone through all of the stages of dentistry sticker shock — vehement denial, tearful regret, and now I’m at unhappy acceptance. I did this to myself, and knowing that makes me both angry and sad. I care so much about looking pretty and getting my face done, and my teeth are white and straight so I assumed that they were doing great. I couldn’t have been more wrong.

I was surprised when I did an informal poll of our friends, how many of them hadn’t been to a dentist in at least as much time as I had. So I present this to you dear readers as a kind of PSA. If you haven’t been to the dentist in more than a year, make an appointment.

After getting slapped with a bill like that, I’m so obsessed with dental hygiene, it’s laughable. I’ve become one of those ladies who has to brush their teeth after every meal, and in terms of flossing, the product junkie in me has kicked in big time.

Now I’m like Dr. Teeth. Just kidding.

I used to use the Oral B Cross Action Power Battery Toothbrush, and I still love the way the vibrating brush made my teeth feel ever-so-smooth. But the dental hygenist says that the round-and-round motion does little for keeping your gums clean, and preventing the early stages of periodontal disease. They switched me to a simple soft brush (kind of like the Oral B Advantage).

When it comes to floss, I prefer to spend a little more for a brand-name variety. The Publix brand I was using would unravel and leave little threads caught between my teeth. I like the Crest Glide Deep Clean Dental Floss, and that was working great for me. But the real problems are my back teeth.

I hadn’t been properly flossing back there, and the damage was obvious. My hygienist recommended the Reach Flosser, and I also sprung for the Clean Mint refill pack.

This thing is awesome. Just work the floss between your back teeth, pull it back out, wash it off, then toss the used floss when you’re done. It leaves the spaces between my teeth feeling minty fresh.

My dentist told me I needed a Waterpik, so I went ahead and bought the $6 Power Flosser. It isn’t a great product, and doesn’t adequately get between my teeth. What did I expect for six dollars?

A follow-up dental appointment revealed that they need me to buy the WaterPik Personal Oral Cleaning System, which comes with an oral irrigator and tongue cleaner. So I’ll be getting that nifty piece of hardware pretty soon. The reviews on drugstore.com aren’t great, so I’ll do a review after I try that bad boy out.

The worst part of all my dental drama isn’t the cost, it’s realizing that my problems were all preventable. Unlike Deamonte’s mother, I’m lucky enough to have a job with insurance. My hesitation was entirely my own fault, and now — literally — I’m paying the price. So don’t be like me. If you’ve been putting off any kind of doctor’s appointment, I say today’s a great day to make that first phone call.

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Comments

  1. Afrobella, this post reads like I wrote it myself. I just went back to the dentist in December and before that, I hadn’t been in three years. I knew I needed my wisdom teeth pulled, and I was/am scared of the pain, so I figured I’d just avoid the dentist all together. Just like you, I figured my teeth were white and straight, so I don’t need to go to the dentist. So silly!

    Anyway, I’ve started flossing daily too. And, my dentist recommended following up with a fluoride mouthwash to prevent cavities. ACT is the best brand for that.

  2. Hey Ms. New Beauty! They prescribed some NASTY metallic tasting $25 mouthwash for me. After I use it, I’m not supposedto eat anything for a half hour. My personal fave mouthwash du jour is Listerine Vanilla Mint.

  3. Hey sis,
    Great PSA. I am dealing with dental issues as well for both me and my 8 year old son. I am a freelance designer by day and run my own company by day and night. The self-employed middle class is SOL too. While my son had medical insurance from the state, they offer crappy dental and his dentist is an arm and a leg. However it has been a minute for even him, I am sad to say, but you have reminded me to get on the horn and call his dentist and get him checked out because he does have work to be done. We must all rememebr that dental hygeine is linked to hypertension, heart disease, pre term labor and a plethora of other semmingly non- related health issues. Kudos to you for bringing that up!

  4. oh my god i know exactly what you mean. a couple of years ago i went to the dentist for a check up but i had a feeling that i had a cavity and i told them that but they didn’t pay any attention to me. turns out that i did and it got so bad that i had to have a root canal. it took them over a year to finish it. they’d drill, 2 mos later drill again 2 mos later drill some more put in a temp filling and leave me alone for another 3 months. by that time i had already graduated from college and i wasn’t covered under my parents anymore. they kept rescheduling aptmts and stuff and it got to the point where the temp filling had sunk so deep the tooth was like a little bowl. and of course i bit down on the tooth and it cracked in half. and then they have the nerve to take another 5 months to finish me off. can you believe that? if that place wasn’t over booking people, the patients with the more important issues would get treated faster. i also hate that more jobs don’t offer dental. it makes no sense.

  5. Bella, thanks for this post. Like you, I have not been to the dentist in about 5-6 years. I am insured, but even after insurance the sticker shock of everything that needs to be done blows your mind. I have had two root canals, a crown, and some fillings last time. In the meantime, a rear molar that just needed a small filling has broken off and I need a crown there. You ar right, all of this is preventable if we stay up on our dental game. I think the problem started in my teen years–your parents are all about taking you to the dentist every 3 months for cleanings, etc. when you are little, but as you get older, it slacks off (unless you have a serious problem). My teeth (only that they were white and I brushed after meals) were my least concern in my early 20s. Last time I did go to the dentist, I asked him to give me an estimate of how much it would cost to do all the repairs and slight cosmetic stuff and he was like “$10,000″! I will bite the bullet and get back in his chair though.

  6. Patrick Jnr. says:

    Little Sister I feel your pain! My co-workers and friends couldn’t believe the fact that I flew to Tobago to see my dentist! Hey we were in school together and hardly charges!Besides, I have had so many bad experiences before, compounded with the fact that I am not very proactive with dental care, and had a few bad experiences, I had a botched root canal years ago, and the tooth finally gave up and fell out! My dentist wants me to try a new device which is essentially a titanium post that looks like a screw and has some kind of coating that enables your bone to graft to it, but at $15,000 I may just keep the gap! I am geting use to it I was never big on smiling anyway! Take care…

  7. Gotta tell you, when you buy the Waterpik, be prepared for mess. Water flying everywhere and such, but my mother now swears by hers. She puts a mixture of water and Listerine in hers.

  8. Thanks for this post. It’s so important. The story of that little boy has been all over the news here (Baltimore, MD) and it gave me the push to make a dental appointment for my daughter, who is 3. It frustrates me to no end that a young Black boy DIED because of lack of dental care! In America! Come on, y’all! We gotta do better than this!

  9. BlackHoney says:

    Driver’s story should be a call to arms to affordable preventative health care for all. I read somewhere that Black people who go to the emergency room are generally healthier than whites. It’s because emer. rooms are our first line of treatment. I have known so many people who are in pain or ill, but only go to the doctor after they pass out or some other acute event. And to be honest, I haven’t had any relatives suffer from long term illnesses. They are diagnosed and die within the year. Why? because the diseases were diagnosed earlier enough for effective treatment. This is crazy. Most of the ailments we suffer are preventable or treatable if diagnosed in time. Health shouldn’t be a luxury that only people with middle-class jobs have.

    Reading this post reminds me how lucky me (and my teeth) have been. I didn’t see the dentist until I was 12 for a cleaning (no insurance and we didn’t qualify for Medicaid) and I didn’t go back until I was 22. My graduate school had an excellent student health center and I was able to get cleanings twice a year, sealants, and extractions at a reduced rate. The dentist actually told me that for someone who had no dental care as a child, my teeth were in good shape. This could have easily gone the other way. I have cousin who’s 33 also and saving money for a set of dentures.

  10. Neosoulbeauty says:

    Bella,

    Thanks for bringing a situation like this to light. You are absolutely right, we need to worry more about relevant issues like health, education, insurance and etc, not saying that not all matters are relevant but this twelve year old boy shouldn’t have died. Insurance is not cheap and I don’t seem to understand why so many insurance companies feel the need to charge like $500 dollars a month for insurance. I don’t know maybe it’s just me but sometimes insurance that you acquire with your jon quite frankly sucks! I have Empire blue with my company for medical insurance and Aetna for dental and aside from paying my co-payment for the visit and the service and $120 dollars a month, I still get billed for charges that the insurance cannot cover. Is this even fair?

  11. There are so many health problems we can avoid if we only do the right things and do them right. This was a very courageous piece and excellently written. The only thing you omitted to say was ”if only I had listened to mum and dad”
    Well, such is life. Just get into the habit of visiting your dentist every six months.
    Love you.
    Dad

  12. JUstMYwOrD says:

    Bella, the article was a necessary peice, thanks for writing it. I agree with Neosoul Beauty, this little boy shouldn’t have died, hopefully this horrible tragedy will cause us to focus on issues that really do matter, like health care, care for the elderly, etc. so this little boy’s short life won’t be in vain.

  13. Glad to know I’m not alone I don’t know how long I went without seeing a dentist but like u the teeth looked good never had a cavity so when I finally did go, I had to get like half of my mouth filled from all the cavities and I have a tooth that needs to be pulled as I type. Waiting to be able to afford to go back as I also have gum disease which causes the need of more visits and a 198.00 payment after x amount of visits.

    So needless to say I’m a tooth junkie also now, wish I realized how much I could do at home aside from brushing of course. But it’s definately lesson learned and I truly feel for that family. This is one more reason why healthcare should be free in this country period!! Like others.

  14. I know that the medical field is terrible. However, the mother shares a lot of the blame for her’s death. How does a child’s teeth get to that point. Was she not looking at what they eat, did she not make sure that the brushed.

    I’m sorry poverty is no excuse for common sense.

  15. Barb, I know someone who is white, well off, and just had to pay almost as much as I did for his kid’s teeth. I thought I was doing a good job with my own, and look at what’s going on with me. It’s gotta be hard to be a mother working multiple jobs. I’m assuming you read the article, but here’s how it explains what you see as negligence:

    “The Driver children have never received routine dental attention, said their mother, Alyce Driver. The bakery, construction and home health-care jobs she has held have not provided insurance. The children’s Medicaid coverage had temporarily lapsed at the time Deamonte was hospitalized. And even with Medicaid’s promise of dental care, the problem, she said, was finding it.

    When Deamonte got sick, his mother had not realized that his tooth had been bothering him. Instead, she was focusing on his younger brother, 10-year-old DaShawn, who “complains about his teeth all the time,” she said.

    DaShawn saw a dentist a couple of years ago, but the dentist discontinued the treatments, she said, after the boy squirmed too much in the chair. Then the family went through a crisis and spent some time in an Adelphi homeless shelter. From there, three of Driver’s sons went to stay with their grandparents in a two-bedroom mobile home in Clinton.”

    I am sure she was focusing more on finding them a roof over their heads and food in their stomachs, but that doesn’t make her a negligent mother. I really feel for her loss and I am sure she blames herself.

    Dad — your comment made me laugh out LOUD here at work. My neighbor asked me “what are you cackling about?” So true. You always stressed oral hygiene, and I always wasn’t as into flossing as you wanted me to be. Point made!

  16. Black Honey says:

    Barb are you serious?

    No disrespect but all the brushing, flossing and rinsing in the world wouldn’t treat a bacterial infection. These were cavities that would have been detected and treated by a dentist during a routine visit. That’s the issue. There was no modes for preventive treatment.

    Second, i’m sure everyone knows people who eat healthy foods, who include very little sugar in their diet but due to the biology of their mouths have a couple of cavities (at the least) each time they visit the dentist.

    Finally, to state the obvious, if you don’t have any money and you are living in a shelter, teeth are often the least urgent of your healthcare concerns.

    This is a social injustice.

  17. Wonder if the little boy’s mother tried having him rinse his mouth with hydrogen peroxid and water? That does a great job of curbing infection and tooth aches.

  18. E-Fresh says:

    So B, guess what? Before coming on to check out the site today, I made a Dentist appointment! (long time coming) You totally inspired me. Monday 2PM.

    Tony hooked it up with the recommendation.

  19. Absolutely heartbreaking. And this is America? We’re supposedly so much more adavanced than these “Third World” countries but yet we have 12 year olds dying of abcesses. Sickening.

  20. Ami Jane says:

    Good lookin Bella. Also importantly I hope the women are getting annual gynocological exam… You would think this is common sense, but a lot of people out there don’t think it is important even if they do have medical. There is a virus called HPV that causes cervical cancer. Millions of women in America have it without any symptoms what so ever. Of course it can be fatal and impair you from reproducing, etc. You are at risk even if you have only had one sexual partner. For the women, the pap smears are definitely important as well. Didn’t mean to scare yall! Peace!

  21. it was funny reading this post today because i just scheduled my son’s first dentist visit for next tuesday, and he is 18 months old. like the mother in the article, my son’s healthcare is provided by medicaid. i was able to access a list of dentists for my area who accept medicaid, and it wasn’t the shortest list you ever saw, but it wasn’t extremely long either. there was only one pediatric dentist listed, and that office only takes medicaid patients if they have a medical problem and are referred to a dentist by their doctor. another dentist that i called said that they didn’t see children under the age of 6. the third time was the charm and i found a great place that specializes in children’s dentistry, accepts medicaid, and sees patients as young as 9 months. i think that a great deal of how comfortable people are with their health care providers has a whole lot to do with how they are treated and how comfortable they are made to feel. i was a dent-a-phobe too as a child, but am trying to nip that in the bud with my son. say it loud, i take care of my teeth and i’m proud!

  22. I have always tried to see the dentist 2x a year…but your story about the boy made me also think about eye care…hearing…..dyslexia..don’t american schools have a trained nurse who can help with these things?..early diagnosis and resultant recommendations can be so helpful..

    Afrobella, myself and our brothers all went to private schools from age 3-11 and the schools not only had a trained nurse but also the teachers were trained to detect any developmental problems..our parents didn’t earn much & it was 5! kids but their priority was for excellent education for all 5 of us…

    Not to sound preachy, but USA Government and CORPORATE AMERICA and all governments/corporations everywhere need to spend MORE $ on good healthcare for ALL especially the young, the women (who make the new generations) and the elderly and LESS on waging wars, going into space and such stuff.

    What do you all think?

  23. Marian Wright Edelman was on the Tom Joyner Show talking about this case and is asking people to go to a site called
    http://www.electsusie.com to sign a petition that represents
    uninsured children. They claim they can’t find money to fund children’s insurance but for the price of 3 months of this war, you can insure 9 million children for a year! This is definitely something the Senate & Congress should be fighting for.

  24. you know that healthcare in this country is an issue that truly needs to be scrutinized when 2 children are allowed to fall through the cracks with long-rotting teeth, and one is allowed to die. while we waste billions of dollars on a war that most of the country disagrees with, children can’t even get their basic healthcare needs taken care of? ridiculous. my condolences go out to his family, and i hope this child’s tragic, SENSELESS death is catalyst to an honest dialogue on universal healthcare in america. its time.

    this story has frightened me into actively seeking a dentist on my insurance plan. ever since i stopped being covered on my mother’s insurance and i got my own, my medical care has been completely up to me. i have to admit that i’ve been neglecting a lot of things that i shouldn’t, like my dental care. i’m going to get on the ball TODAY, call my insurance, and ask about dentists in my area. thanks, bella.

  25. Hey Bella!

    This is such a sad story! I’ve told people that a toothache can be deadly but no one seemed to believe me.

  26. How is going I hope u have a wonderfull birthday. Take a look at this blog called faking good breeding your blog is mensioned in the article take a look

  27. This story is so sad . I really feel for those who doent have enough money to buy/get the things that are necesarry to every person . That beeing said I just read a piece on http://www.carlagirl.net/blog/blog.html and I thought it would help if everybody just click ( Hope you dont mind me posting this Afrobella )

    Anyways Here is the text that was on the site :

    Here it is :let’s get personal (and real)
    Seventh Generation will donate tampons to a women’s shelter if you just go
    the site below, choose a state, and click. It takes all of 3 seconds. Costs
    nothing. You don’t get on any mailing lists. Sure, why not? (I checked it
    out; it’s legit.)

    Here’s the scoop from their web site:

    Women’s shelters in the U.S. go through thousands of tampons and pads
    monthly, and, while agencies generally assist with everyday necessities such
    as toilet paper, diapers, and clothing, this most basic need is often
    overlooked. You and I may take our monthly trips down the feminine care
    aisle for granted, but, for women in shelters, a box of tampons is five
    dollars they can’t spare. Here’s some good news: you can help us contribute
    to rectifying this situation by making a virtual donation below. For each
    virtual donation, Seventh Generation will send a pack of organic cotton
    tampons or chlorine-free pads to a shelter in your state.

    http://www.tampontification.com/donate.php

  28. Im always really quick with thinks, just srolled down the site and there is a piece about afrobella.com featured on it . The post with Josephine Baker.

  29. Tragic story… Unfortunately, bad dental hygiene is all too common : /. As a dental assistant I really appreciate popular bloggers covering these issues. All too often patients come in with completely avoidable problem and waste huge amounts of time and money. All the products you mentioned here are reputable, especially waterpik. Tongue care and the right toothpastes are also key. I recommend DR COLLINS “tongue squigi” because it’s not harsh like other brands. The “All White” products also do a phenomenal job. Check out dentist.net.

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Trackbacks

  1. [...] ** Sorry I missed you yesterday, bellas! Wednesdays are always terrible, because of my deadline for the jobby job. But then finally after deadline, I had a dentist’s appointment. Remember my Superbowl tooth situation? I finally got my permanent crown yesterday. Woo hoo! I can chew gum again! OK, back to your daily dose. [...]

  2. [...] Friday morning, I came to the end of a long dental journey. Remember this post, about my dental drama that started in 2007? It’s finally almost over! [...]

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