Free Dental Clinic Exposes Major Issues

By: Lauren Zakalik Email
By: Lauren Zakalik Email

Some people have been waiting in this line for hours.

"I have a tooth that's cracked in half, so I need them to remove that," says Lachara Brandon of Lansing.

But hours don't seem that bad when you've been waiting years to see a dentist.

"Four years," Marion Ewing of Lansing says she's waited.

"It's ridiculous," says Erica Watts. "No one has the money to get their mouths fixed."

But a group of local dentists is trying to change that Thursday, donating their time to see as many people as they can for free-- people who don't have insurance, but desperately need dental care. Dr. Timothy Zielinski of Mason has just removed 14 teeth from a patient.

"The gal before her, we took 27 teeth out," the dentist tells us.

It's a direct effect of the economy, he says. People don't have jobs, so they don't have insurance. To boot, Medicaid cut out dental coverage this past year. It's been reinstated for now, but this free clinic being held at the Care Free Medical Clinic tells a different story.

"The clinic right now has 1,000 patients on a waiting list," Zielinski says, mentioning more than 200 people call a week and have to be turned away.

As emotional and painful as each of these stories is, the dentists say this only represents a small snapshot of how big the issue is-- not just in mid-Michigan, but around the state, too.

"The numbers right now show about 30 percent of the population doesn't have access to dental care because they don't have dental insurance," explains Michigan Dental Association's Tom Kochheiser.

That's not to mention the 1.5 million more people who lost dental benefits because of the Medicaid situation, says Kochheiser. That makes about 4.5 million people in Michigan vulnerable when it comes to dental care.

Back at the clinic, Maggie Washington of Lansing is about to get an infected tooth removed.

"It costs a lot to have a tooth extracted," she says.

Something she couldn't have afforded on her own.

The clinic expected to serve more than 100 people Thursday.

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  • by Anonymous on Sep 25, 2010 at 05:39 AM
    If these procedures are reasonable, I would skip insurance and take what I pay in premimums and use it for dental. Some of these doctors charge twice as much as they need to so they do not get robbed by the insurance company.
  • by anonymous on Sep 24, 2010 at 08:55 AM
    Why do they offer insurance with high deductibles to low wage earners. Money comes out of their check every week, but they can't afford to use it. Something doesn't smell right here.
  • by non anonymous on Sep 23, 2010 at 10:49 PM
    Its a disgrace that for the last 20-30 years we got fat and lazy and paid no attention to what was taking place right outside our door. Mass amounts of these types of dental problems used to be limited to third world countries. Many people are finally waking up to the corporations, bankers and criminal oligarchs that designed and created this economic depression.
  • by Alecia Location: Lansing on Sep 23, 2010 at 06:50 PM
    I seriously considered going out there today myself. I have dental coverage through my husband, but there is still a large co-pay of over $100. We live paycheck to paycheck and even with dental coverage I can't get my teeth fixed!
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