Letter: The dental crisis in Bennington

To the editor:

More than five years ago the Vermont Rural Development agency held a series of meetings. In Bennington the meeting that focused on poverty was widely attended. During the citizen comment period the issue of the lack of affordable dental care was discussed. It is now more than five years later. Below are some important facts and questions.

1. In the past five years not one improvement in access to affordable adult dental care in Bennington has been made. Low income workers and seniors on fixed income still have no access to some necessary procedures. Moral leadership by the Select Board is needed. The health care community and state legislators need to get involved.

2. Has the Bennington Oral Health group been hi-jacked by a few who are using it to push their agenda for municipal fluoride? If so, that is divisive and counter-productive. Fluoride is a separate issue. If and when the topic of fluoride comes up again both sides should be given an equal opportunity to air their views.

3. Dental needs of adults and the elderly are much different than the dental needs of children. Decay is not the most common cause of dental problems of the elderly.

4. One of the leading causes of malnutrition of the elderly is the lack of ability to chew solid food.

5. Dental care is an essential part of health care.

There are ways to fix this. First, we must overcome the lobbying of the Vermont Dental Association which has opposed any government involvement with dental care.

A test project should be set up at ground zero of the dental health crisis - Bennington. For less than the cost of three helmets for F-35 pilots this could be accomplished - an adult dental clinic could be set up. Hire three dentists to work 40 hours per week. Pay each of them $150,000 per year. Also one receptionist is needed. Bill patients on a sliding scale that includes ALL dental procedures commonly needed by adults. Do not use the sliding scale of FQHC dental clinics which disallows many adult procedures. This plan could be accomplished for less than one million dollars - part of which would be offset by improved health for adults.

The hospital has plans to open a dental clinic in October. This will help, but only if patients of all income levels are accepted.

It has been common knowledge that lack of dental care can be a risk factor for cardiac problems. Reuters reports that lack of dental care can also be the cause of many different types of cancer.

"...The biggest risk was for cancer of the esophagus, which was three times more likely in women with periodontal disease. Women with periodontal disease were also 31 percent more likely to be diagnosed with lung tumors, 73 percent more likely to get gallbladder cancers, 13 percent more likely to have breast tumors and 23 percent more likely to have melanoma..." — Reuters Health

How will history look upon a nation that spends $400,000 for each helmet for F-35 pilots while citizens go without necessary health care? This is a problem with a solution. It is not brain surgery, but sometimes it is oral surgery.

— Rosemarie Jackowski



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