Dental needs are unmet across state

Rebecca Bowe has used the same pair of dentures since the early 1980s.Bowe, 65, started losing her teeth in her 20s. One tooth went bad, then another. A dentist eventually told her she should have the rest of them pulled. At 26, she had no teeth.Bowe has shopped around for a new denture, but she can’t afford the down payment that some dentists request. One dentist suggested she get implants, but those would cost $6,000.“I need a whole new set of dentures,” said Bowe, who lives in Rand. “I don’t know what to do now.”Bowe’s plight is shared by residents throughout the state.West Virginia Medicaid, health insurance for the poor, pays only for extractions. Medicare, government insurance for the elderly, won’t pay for anything.Many people simply have nowhere to turn to get their teeth fixed. Christy Jones, 33, is looking for a job, but she’s nervous about going for an interview. She said she needs a full set of dentures. She has only a few bottom teeth left.“The reason I don’t work is the way my mouth looks,” said the Logan County mother of two. “I’m so embarrassed.”Jones has experience as a clerical worker in the medical field. She used to work at an emergency room in Chapmanville.“Nobody wants to hire somebody who looks like they don’t take care of themselves,” she said. “I’ve got to do something.”
Olivia Allen’s 35-year-old daughter, Connie, just got out of prison.She wants to work at a state park in Southern West Virginia, but she first needs an upper and lower partial denture.“When she smiles, you can see her teeth are gone,” Allen said. “She looks down a lot.”Allen believes a new set of teeth would help her daughter, who has three children, get a job.
“She wants to change and do things differently,” Allen said. “She wants to turn her life around. It would help her so much if she could just get her teeth.”Rose Smith, 29, has a “medical card” through the state’s Medicaid program. But it will only pay to have her remaining teeth pulled, not for a full or partial denture.Smith said problems with her teeth have stopped her from getting a job.“People think I’m a lot older,” said Smith, who lives on Charleston’s West Side. “I’m afraid to smile.”Smith said the “poor choices” she made in terms of oral hygiene as a girl contributed to her dental woes. She has four children. The gas company is threatening to shut off her heat. She needs to pay the gas bill before she can even think about getting her teeth fixed.“The younger ones say, ‘You’re pretty, Mom,’” Smith said. “But I don’t feel it. There’s no help you can get.”
To contact staff writer Eric Eyre, use e-mail or call 348-4869.
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