Paco came in today to brush his teeth.
One of his schticks is to speak in a regional shitkicker accent. So, as he said it, he'd come to the Day Center to brush his tayth.
He still has a full set to brush. Many of our guests are not so fortunate.
Rush is missing his top front teeth back to the canines. Because he's well over six feet, it would be easy for someone to think werewolf as they stare up into the gap. He's also scrawny, hyper and has one white eye with the cornea clouded over. Though he tends to run away from trouble, his appearance tends to provoke people. Last week, a 12-year-old girl punched him in the face and blackened his good eye.
Toni has no teeth. Her sunken lips and collapsed cheeks brand her as homeless and a possible meth addict. She has a job interview coming up, and I don't know how she'll fare. She's unlikely to land anything that involves public contact. But she will go in there and smile and try to act confident.
I remember David, who was saving his money for new dentures. He'd been a ski instructor, but couldn't get rehired after he lost his teeth.
Jolene's teeth are small and malformed, as if her adult teeth never came in to replace the soft baby teeth.
I'm not even going to start on the decay I've seen.
According to surveys of homeless veterans, dental care was consistently ranked as one of their top three unmet needs, along with long-term permanent housing and childcare, and I have little doubt that finding would hold across the homeless population. Poor oral health can be a barrier to finding employment—both cosmetically and as a contributor to low self-esteem.
Worst of all, the homeless population has the most difficulty reversing the situation. They:
- have worse dental problems
- are about half as likely to have dentures if they are toothless
- are twelve times more likely than people with stable housing to have dental problems
- and are less likely to have access to dental care because they lack money, health insurance (Medicaid coverage for dental care varies by state) and often, a dentist willing to serve them.
Dietary limitations because of their dental condition can further deteriorate overall health.
You have nice teeth, said Rush.
(For the record, they are a bit coffee-stained, untouched by orthodontia up front and generously crowned in the rear.)
You must have listened to your parents, he said.