There is much discussion in the local media here in Washington D.C. about this tragic story:
Twelve-year-old Deamonte Driver died of a toothache Sunday.
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.
The article itself focuses on the alleged lack of dental care coverage for the poor and apporvingly quotes those who argue for the expansion of Medcaid benefits in this area.
But that’s not the only lesson you can draw from this tragic event. Consider, for example, what this boys mother did in response to an obviously serious dental problem:
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.
By September, several of DaShawn’s teeth had become abscessed. Driver began making calls about the boy’s coverage but grew frustrated. She turned to Norris, who was working with homeless families in Prince George’s.
Norris and her staff also ran into barriers: They said they made more than two dozen calls before reaching an official at the Driver family’s Medicaid provider and a state supervising nurse who helped them find a dentist.
On Oct. 5, DaShawn saw Arthur Fridley, who cleaned the boy’s teeth, took an X-ray and referred him to an oral surgeon. But the surgeon could not see him until Nov. 21, and that would be only for a consultation. Driver said she learned that DaShawn would need six teeth extracted and made an appointment for the earliest date available: Jan. 16.
But she had to cancel after learning Jan. 8 that the children had lost their Medicaid coverage a month earlier. She suspects that the paperwork to confirm their eligibility was mailed to the shelter in Adelphi, where they no longer live.
The natural instinct for any parent faced with this situation would be, I think, to do whatever it took to make sure that your child received proper medical, or in this case dental, care. Remember we’re not talking about a cavity here, or teeth that are misaligned and need braces, we are talking about an infection that ultimately killed her son.
With all due respect to a mother who has lost her son, it seems that the only thing she did was rely on Medicaid (i.e., the state) to take care of this. From the article, there appears to have been no consideration of looking to a church or charity for help, for example, or, quite honestly, doing whatever it took to make sure your child received the care they needed.
This is what happens when people become dependent on the welfare state.