Mar 19, 2007
Recently, a twelve-year-old boy, Deamonte Driver, died because an untreated tooth infection spread to his brain. Routine tooth cleanings, cavity fillings or a simple tooth extraction could have prevented this needless death.
Where did this happen? In a poor country? No! It happened in a predominantly black suburb of Washington, D.C., the capital of the richest country in the world.
Some people want to blame the mother. For what? Alyce Driver’s only mistake was being poor. She tried to get her children medical care, but at every turn there was another roadblock. Few dentists accept Medicaid in Maryland, fewer than 20%.
Plus, Alyce Driver’s children lost their Medicaid coverage because they had been temporarily homeless, living in a homeless shelter. When they moved out of the shelter the paperwork was sent to the shelter, instead of their new address.
Alyce Driver did not know Deamonte’s tooth was bothering him. She was struggling to help his younger brother get his more obviously bad teeth fixed. She had to wait almost two months just to get him a consultation with an oral surgeon!
This tragedy is much bigger than the Driver family. Of Maryland’s 5,500 dentists, only about 900 will accept Medicaid patients. Fewer than 16% of Maryland’s Medicaid children received restorative services – like filling cavities – in 2005, the most recent year for which figures are available. The number of those who can see oral surgeons is even lower.
Add those problems together with the other problems that come with poverty – lack of transportation, periodic homelessness, erratic telephone and mail service (because of changing addresses or living in shelters) and it’s a recipe for tragedies like the death of the Driver boy.
What kind of society allows a little boy to die from a completely preventable disease? What kind of society does not take care of its children, its future? This would not have happened to a child of a wealthy family.
The newspapers say Deamonte died from a rotten tooth. Deamonte and many other children like him died because of this completely rotten society.
What do you do with something rotten? You pull it out.