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Open Collection of Student Writing (OCSW)

Community Service Reflection II

Due to the current pandemic and stay at home orders, volunteering in our community was made difficult. As a substitution to volunteering, we aided our community by staying at home and reading the wonderful work of Mary Otto, a health journalist. In her book Teeth The Story of Beauty, Inequality, and the Struggle for Oral Health in America I learned about the silent epidemic of oral disease that is present in America.

As a child, I had many cavities, and much like many children who come from low-income households, routine dental care was not an option. My first visit to the dentist was when I was six and I was informed that I had to have four teeth extracted. We had no type of insurance at the time, but fortunately, through my parent’s hard work I was still able to get the procedure done. This, however, was not the case for young Kyle Willis.

Mary describes the story of a young man by the name of Kyle Willis, who went to the hospital because of a toothache. He was prescribed painkillers and antibiotics but could only afford to purchase the four-dollar painkillers. A few days later he was sent back to the hospital in an ambulance. His toothache had escalated into a systemic crisis and the following day he was pronounced brain dead. He was about the same age as me when he passed. Reading about this story made me feel sad, frustrated, and confused. So many questions ran through my head. How could this have happened? Could the antibiotics have saved his life? Would a dentist have been able to stress the importance of having his tooth extracted along with the importance of taking the antibiotics? why did he go to the doctors for a toothache in the first place?

The year that Kyle passed it turned out that more than eighty thousand Ohioans went to a hospital emergency room for dental problems. The reason being that they could not find affordable dental care in their community, along with the fact that hospitals that accepted Medicare or Medicate were required to screen patients without regard to legal status or ability to pay unlike dental offices at the time. Kyles’s death brought light to a major problem. Emergency room visits rarely address the patient’s needs and without dental care problems only get worse.

Prior to hearing about this story, I had no idea that people would have to go to the doctors as a last-ditch effort to get help with their toothaches. The problem is that the health care system does not see dental care as part of personal health and wellbeing. As a society, it is important to be reminded that the oral cavity is connected to the rest of our body. Kyles’s case proves this. Health care systems need to stop turning a blind eye to this. It is up to me and my fellow Dental professionals to inform ourselves of social issues and advocate for our patients. In order to be a part of this change, we must bring these concerns to the attention of our lawmakers. One day I hope to see onsite dental clinics in emergency rooms in an effort to provide medical care to underserved communities.

Reading Teeth was an eye-opener and it expanded my awareness of the world that is around us. Due to Kyles’s devastating story, I learned just how badly our health care system needs to be reformed. I have made it my duty to be a voice for all those suffering to obtain dental care. One day we can close the divide between dental care and large health care systems.

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