African American youth dies from toothache in Maryland

A 12-year-old African American child died in Maryland this week from a toothache. A bacterial infection spread from his tooth to his brain and killed him.

That’s what the news reports say. In reality, it was capitalism that killed young Deamonte Driver. In the capitalist system, medical insurance, just like medical care itself, is all about profit.

Deamonte only needed a routine $80 tooth extraction. But that was money his mother didn’t have. Her Medicaid coverage had lapsed. Even if it hadn’t, fewer than one in five dentists are even willing to treat less-profitable Medicaid patients.

And even with all those obstacles removed, Deamonte still wouldn’t have been first in line because his mother’s attention was on his brother, who had not one but six rotted teeth needing treatment.

Dental care, just like medical care, is available in the United States. All you have to do is pay for it. If you can’t, you’re out of luck.

Less than one in three children in Maryland’s Medicaid program received any dental service at all in 2005. Poor children are more than twice as likely to have cavities as their more affluent peers, but far less likely to get treatment.

In 2003, Dr. Yihong Li of the New York University College of Dentistry visited Cuba to see what happens in a country that not only provides free, universal access to health care (including dental care), but also is proactive in making sure that all citizens actually receive that care.

Here’s what Dr. Li reported when she returned:

“The percentage of caries [cavity]-free five-year-old Cuban children increased from 30 percent in 1984 to 55 percent in 1998, according to the World Health Organization. And between 1973 and 1999, the mean number of carious teeth in 12-year-old Cuban children dropped from 6.0 to 1.4. There have been achievements in adult oral health as well, including oral cancer screenings for 71 percent of adults over age 60.

“Preventive efforts center on a network of primary care clinics throughout this island nation, where 9,877 dentists serve 11 million people (a ratio of approximately 1:1,100). The clinics care for an average of 700 to 900 local residents from cradle to grave. They provide annual dental examinations for all Cubans (twice annually for those under four years old or over 60), pre-and postnatal infant oral health instruction, and 16 annual fluoride mouth rinse treatments for all school-age children.”

That’s what a socialist government and socialist planning can accomplish, even in a country blockaded by U.S. imperialism. All it takes is a committment to using the resources of society to meet the needs of the country’s people.

In revolutionary Cuba, the idea of a Deamonte Driver dying from a toothache is simply unthinkable.

Click here for Dr. Li’s full report.
Click here to read more from the writer on his blog, Left I on the News.

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