Getting dental services in prison is like pulling teeth. It may be more accurate to state that dental services in prison consists of pulling teeth and not much else. The year before I paroled the MDOC changed the policy so that anyone with less than two years in prison didn’t qualify for a teeth cleaning. With tooth brushes of such poor quality and the removal of dental floss from the commissary it would be very difficult to forestall serious degradation in oral health during this period. How can they justify this policy?
I met several men with such bad teeth that they purposefully did not brush in an attempt to get their teeth to rot enough that dental would have to pull them out and give them dentures. They had served long sentences and had lost enough teeth that chewing food was difficult and smiling was out of the question. Their bad breath went beyond halitosis and smelled of rot as they let nature take its course and dental one tooth at a time.
My first encounter with dental was while I was in quarantine at RGC. Upon arrival at prison after sentencing the first several days were filled with medical, dental and classification appointments. The dental appointment consisted of an exam to document the condition of my teeth. They took x-rays and performed a physical exam with a dental tool. Immediately afterwards I developed a gum infection that resulted in the significant loss of tissue around the base of my tooth. They don’t have alcohol-based mouth wash in prison so my only option was to get salt to gargle with. I suspect the dental tool was not properly sterilized.
While I was in Level I a gold crown came loose and fell out. I submitted an urgent kite to dental to have the dentist re-glue the crown. Several weeks later I got to see the dentist. It was a struggle to get the crown reinstalled, but he got it in. Five years later it came out again.
By then I was at a different facility. I submitted another urgent kite to dental and a month later they saw me. This time they said they would not re-glue the crown because the policy had changed. My option was to have the tooth pulled or leave it alone. Since I was only six months to my out date I elected to leave it alone. By the time I got to see a dentist out in the world the gap between my teeth had closed and the crown could not be reinstalled. I ended up spending $1400 to get a new crown.
I made sure to request teeth cleaning every year. The waiting list to get teeth cleanings was so long that several times the time between cleanings was closer to 1½ years. When I got home and had my first teeth cleaning the condition of my teeth and guns was poor enough that they scheduled additional teeth cleanings to address the issues.
My experience is typical. What is urgent and simple to fix in the world can’t be done in prison. Since when did pulling a tooth become cheaper than preferred to re-gluing my existing crown? I can understand not wanting to perform an expensive procedure like installing a new crown, but this wasn’t the case. Just some bean counter at the medical service provider made a cost cutting decision that is not medically sound.
I’ve already told my favorite dental horror story elsewhere about the guy who was mis-diagnosed and suffered a botched root canal and suffered with extreme pain due to a mis-diagnosis of his cancer.
For those who get their teeth pulled it was a painful, bloody experience. One of my bunkies got a tooth pulled and all they gave him were a small handful of aspirin packets to deal with the pain and gauze to repack the hole until the bleeding stopped. With his face swollen up like a chipmunk with a cheek full of nuts he was unable to sleep or eat for several days. All for a cavity they wouldn’t fill.
Even the dentists I dealt with were generally apologetic about the policies that prevented them from providing what would be considered reasonable services in the world. And they should know. The dentists either had a private practice in the local community and worked at the prison part time or retired from private practice and were just supplementing their retirement and keeping busy.