Bracing Reality

“Ugly Betty”, a detail from an illustration by Ian Ellery.

“Don’t worry Dad, I’ll help you get through your braces.” This is what my daughter told me this morning as I set off to get my braces put on by my orthodontist in New York. My daughter is 17 and I am 50

My daughter inherited my bad dental gene. Her teeth went every which way and she had a couple of impacted molars. My teeth are also crooked (but not for long) and in addition to having a couple of impacted molars as a kid and I also had 4 impacted wisdom teeth as an adult. The difference between my daughter’s dental history and mine is a stark example of how much harder poor people have it in a capitalist society. My wife and I make a decent middle class living. We have a house and a car and we both have positions at some well known Universities. When we were informed that my then 13 year old daughter needed braces we did not have to think about it. Our health plan covered about $1500 of the braces and with a monthly payment plan we were able to pay off the rest over the several years she needed to be seen by her orthodontist. Our health plan also covered the extractions needed to make room in her mouth for the dental corrections.

This contrasts starkly with my experience. When the dentist, which we went to see irregularly (and that is being kind) saw that I very much needed braces the first question he asked was whether or not we had health insurance. When my Mom told him no, he pensively held his chin while looking straight at me and said, “I  guess he’ll be okay without braces.” End of story for any sort of dental care. For the next 10 years I experienced a crowded mouth, impacted teeth, bleeding gums, abcesses without any sort of treatment.

At 22 I was able to get a job as an photography assistant at a large educational institution. The job came with health benefits. Starting then I was able to get affordable dental care which entailed a lot of drilling and extractions and quarterly cleanings. My dental health improved immensely but through it all I refused to get braces. I am not quite sure if I was rebelling or I thought I was too old to get them. Every time I have gone to a new dentist over the years the first thing he or she tells me is that I need braces. This is the one thing I have always fought against with my dentists more out of rebellion as the years went by. You didn’t see it as necessary when I was poor and helpless so why should I give you my money now – that was my attitude. I had issues.

Finally last year my current dentist who I have been with for about 8 years showed me how my crooked teeth were causing severe bone loss and told me that if I did not get it fixed I would have really big problems in a few years. So I saw reason and just this morning finally got my braces. Again my health insurance and a monthly payment plan will see me through without any financial hardship.

Because I was poor and a minority I was made to suffer. I can just imagine what someone in my position who never was able to get a job with decent health coverage would have gone through. Well actually I don’t. My brother is a landscaper and even though he has worked for this particular company for decades and is a manager he does not have health insurance. When he gets a toothache or even an infection he resorts to home made remedies. Toothaches are treated with Anbesol, Listerine and whiskey! For a probable tooth infection he actually took antibiotics meant for lizards that he was able to get at a pet store!

Obama was my man when he passed the Affordable care Act and those Reps voting to repeal the ACA fill me with disgust. Bernie Sanders’ call for a Single Payer system fills me with delight and I hope America can get to Bernie Land from these far shores. We’ll never know unless we vote. Now is the time!

Bracing Reality