Uninsured 24-Year-Old Dies from Toothache

Uninsured 24-Year-Old Dies from Toothache

Lacking dental insurance can kill


This recession is literally killing us. 

Conservatives who love to decry universal health care as an evil tool of socialism also love to quote the founding fathers ad nauseum, whether correctly or not. One of the most recognizable quotes from ye olde America has got to be a little something along the lines of "life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness." You know, those things that we're all supposed to have a right to? I'm pretty sure the "life" part covers being able to live past the age of 24. But maybe I'm extrapolating.

We've already seen how corporate health care can kill kids when their records just don't show up in the Walgreens computer. Now we're getting more examples of how unemployment and a lack of health insurance can lead people to decisions that result in their own deaths. 

Kyle Willis, a 24-year-old father living in Cincinnati, started experiencing pain in one of his wisdom teeth two weeks ago. Dentists took a look and told him he'd need to have the tooth extracted, but Willis had no job and no insurance. He couldn't afford the costly procedure out of pocket, so the dentists simply sent him home. Soon after, the pain worsened, his face swelled up, and he began experiencing headaches. A visit to the ER left him with a prescription for antibiotics and a prescription for painkillers. Willis could only afford to fill one; he opted for the latter. The headaches, it turns out, were symptomatic of brain swelling. The infection had spread. It killed him last Tuesday.

No matter your position on universal healthcare, the fact remains that there's a kid in Cincinnati who now doesn't have a father. Willis's condition was entirely treatable. All the modern medicine that's been invented in the past fifty or so years is rendered completely useless to people who don't have the resources to buy themselves access to it. That right to life we were talking about? It suddenly seems like it's become pretty conditional. Maybe you have a right to life so long as you're one of the people who can hold down a job in this economy, or so long as you're lucky enough to avoid common but expensive health conditions. 

Tooth infections are especially nasty killers given how difficult dental insurance can be to procure. People with basic health plans often still can't get routine cleanings or dental surgery when necessary. And sometimes even good personal hygiene isn't enough. Floss all you want, but it doesn't really compare to the twice-yearly professional cleaning that's recommended to avoid serious health problems. 

Free dental clinics do exist, but they're completely overloaded on clients. Oral care is a universal need and the supply just isn't enough as it is--at least not for those who don't have insurance to cover even standard dental procedures. You can claim that America has one of the top health systems in the world, but until people in their 20s stop dying from toothaches, that claim holds rather little water.