Dental professionals, consumers share thoughts about coverage gaps in America's communities

June 28, 2012

The investigative team at the television show FRONTLINE and the Center for Public Integrity, joined forces to produce the film “Dollars and Dentists,” which examined the dental care system and offers some solutions to correct problems found within it.

The investigative team at the television show FRONTLINE and the Center for Public Integrity, joined forces to produce the film “Dollars and Dentists,” which examined the dental care system and offers some solutions to correct problems found within it.

The film reported that some corporate dental firms are profiting from Americans that cannot afford dental care. These firms are dentistry's version of payday lenders, targeting low-income consumers that are ignored by mainstream dentists and charging excessive rates. One of these companies, Aspen Dental, which is owned by a private equity firm, gave 87-year-old Theresa Ferritto a credit card to pay thousands of dollars she owed after getting two teeth pulled, according to CPI reports.

The FRONTLINE investigation aired Tuesday night and the show's website has collected responses from dental professionals and consumers around the country.

Richard Molby commented on FRONTLINE's Facebook page that to fix the issue of 17 million low-income children going without dental care, the system needs to "start by getting rid of separate dental insurance and have dental covered under regular health insurance (never made sense that - even if you have health insurance - you need to buy dental separately). Second, every person, no matter age, health, wealth, etc. gets a free dental exam and a free health screening every year - no out of pocket, no insurance required. The "expense" of doing that would more than offset the costs of neglect down the road. And who would pay for the screenings? The health insurance companies as part of their charter to do business. When a health insurance CEO is the highest paid CEO in Minnesota, they can afford to look at some poor kid's teeth for free."

Lira Cherepakhin, another viewer, commented on FRONTLINE's Facebook page, "This was an excellent presentation, and it hits really close to home. My husband, who is on disability with medicare cannot get dental care. He went to see my dentist here in Arkansas, and the dentist told him that he needed approx. $10,000 of work: total extraction of the entire lower portion, a partial and crown work on upper and we cannot afford it. At least now he's infection free and pain free and we have found a rural dentist that charges on a sliding scale and we'll see if they can do the work. I wish medicare included at a minimum preventive and tier I dental coverage, fillings, root canals, crowns."

Amy Oliver elaborated on a personal experience in a post on FRONTLINE's Facebook page, "I only caught the end, but saw Care Credit mentioned. I hope their unethical behavior was highlighted too. One of their representative lied to us when calling to collect a payment. One day when my husband was actually in the dentist chair at an appointment, their rep called for a payment. I told him I could not pay until the next week's pay day b/c my husband was at the dentist for a procedure and we needed that money to pay that day's bill. He said if I made a payment they would re activate our card. I did it right then on the phone with him (and of course was charged a fee for that too) and they did not reactivate the card that day or any other for that mater. When my husband tried to pay, not only was our care credit care not activated, he couldn't use our debit card b/c of the payment we made and he had to use the visa. We then had two cards to pay off and you can guess the rest of the story...."

To see more responses to the documentary, check out FRONTLINE's website.