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The social cost of a toothache

Today at Goldie’s Place (a support center for homeless individuals) we completed a root canal on a patient’s molar.  Most people probably know what saving a tooth means for the patient, but what does it mean to society as a whole?  Today’s patient, although homeless, has a part time job.  A toothache can elicit extreme pain, often causing people to miss work.  For someone who is paid on an hourly basis, this can be a huge hit to their finances.

Low income patients often have access to medical care, but not dental care, so their next stop is the emergency room.  Most emergency rooms don’t have a dentist on staff, so the patient will leave with a prescription for antibiotics and pain pills.  While this may buy the patient some time, this has in no way addressed the underlying infection.  Teeth are unique in that antibiotics cannot clear out tooth-related infections.   It is just a matter of time until the infection flares up again.  So, already the social cost has been one missed day of work and over $1000 worth of emergency room bills.  Many low income individuals count on every dollar to help support their family.  Each missed day of work decreases their ability to work towards improving their long term financial situation.

Now the patient has to choose how to treat the tooth.  For many, the only options is extraction (removal).  While missing one or two teeth may not cause any major issues, losing a significant number of teeth can greatly affect a person’s quality of life.  Imagine if you had so few teeth that your only option was to eat soft foods.  Not just for a day or two, but for years.  Significant loss of teeth is often accompanied by malnutrition.  Malnutrition can contribute to an decline in overall health.  Decline in overall health can lead to more hospital visits, more missed work, and more wasted money for society.

Why do I bring this up? Community organizations, whether dental or medical, make a huge difference in people’s lives.  In the case of this root canal, no hospital visit was needed, and society as a whole benefited.  Next time you are considering donating to charity, I would also urge you to consider donating to local organizations that can make a direct impact on your community.  Did you ever have a toothache that caused you to miss work– donate to a local community dental clinic.  Do you know someone who suffered from depression– donate to a local mental health facility.  Has substance abuse ever been an issue for a friend or family member– donate to a local recovery home.  You can make an immediate impact on your community and society as a whole.