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Montana dentists fear cuts’ effect on vulnerable patients

UPDATED: Sun., Dec. 17, 2017

Associated Press

BILLINGS, Mont. – Montana dentists fear state budget cuts for adult dental care will hurt people with disabilities and elderly people most.

Montana’s dental care for those populations have been praised by dentists, but the state’s Medicaid program is now facing an $8.9 million funding cut as part of lawmakers’ efforts to balance the state budget.

States must provide certain dental coverage for children on Medicaid but adult benefits are optional, Lee Newspapers of Montana reported Sunday.

Dentists across the state said the cuts will mean less coverage for people in nursing homes and those with disabilities who will struggle to get dental care.

“As a clinician, my hands are tied behind my back to be able to help people as they come in now,” said Dr. Matt Calkins, who operates Sand Creek Dental in Glendive. “If they have a tooth that’s infected and needs to be taken out, now there’s nothing to replace that tooth. If someone has no teeth left or a couple, it’s not a good situation.”

Others said they are most concerned about people in nursing homes who depend on Medicaid coverage to afford dentures and other care.

Dr. Jane Gillette operates a small practice that travels to nursing homes. She said healthy teeth allow residents of nursing homes to keep eating their favorite meals – a highlight of many patients’ days.

“We take away their one joy in life and that’s to eat their pot roast and green beans,” she said. “The only thing they have left is to eat their cake and now we are going to take away their teeth to do that.”

Dentist also fear that poor oral health will have ripple effects on patients’ physical and mental health. For example, providers said people who have teeth pain or have lost many teeth have difficulty eating and can lose weight quickly.

“If you have poor oral health, there is evidence it can lead to a variety of conditions including severe infections, cardiovascular issues and effects on pregnancy,” said David Hemion, executive director of the Montana Dental Association. “If dental services to adults are being eliminated, those are going to show up as conditions that can be more severe and have more impact on the budget.”

State health officials plan to write rules about exactly how the budget cuts will be implemented by March. Dentists said they hope their concerns will be considered.

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