Unemployed, without insurance and unable to afford to have his wisdom teeth pulled Kyle Willis was given two prescriptions for antibiotics and pain medications and sent home. The 24-year-old father couldn’t afford both so he chose the pain medicine and left. The tooth infection spread causing his brain to swell and he died shortly after. Willis joins a long line of American horror stories illustrating how not having health insurance in America can be tantamount to a death sentence.
The story also serves to highlight just how important good dental care is. Most wouldn’t or don’t know that you could even die from such a common tooth ailment. In 2007, 12-year-old Deamonte Driver also died when a tooth infection spread to his brain. The Maryland boy underwent two operations and six weeks of hospital care, totaling $250,000. Doctors said a routine $80 tooth extraction could have saved his life. His family was uninsured and had recently lost its Medicaid benefits, keeping Deamonte from having dental surgery.
According to a study by the Kaiser Family Foundation, 33% of people surveyed said that they had forgone dental care and dental checkups because they simply could not afford them. In 2003 the Surgeon General found that 108 million Americans were without dental insurance – more than twice the already staggering amount of people without health insurance.
Dr. Jim Jirjis, director of general internal medicine at Vanderbilt University said that Willis’s story is not unique. People without access to healthcare often times can die of the most common of conditions.
“He [Willis] might as well have been living in 1927,” Jirjis said. “All of the advances we’ve made in medicine today and are proud of, for people who don’t have coverage, you might as well never have developed those.”
Doctors and Dentists alike urge anyone in need of assistance to seek out free clinics. Though they caution that even if Willis had found a clinic they might not have been able to help him in time. The waitlist for admittance into these clinics can be months long.
Kyle Willis was dead within a matter of weeks.
(Source: ABC News)