When I was a little girl, I loved going to the dentist. I know it makes me a little weird, but I have a nice, friendly dentist who visits me every six months and keeps me out of school for a few hours. I’m lucky to have a mom who takes dental health seriously, and she makes sure I have healthy teeth and gums by scheduling two dentist appointments a year. When I got braces at 13, she would add orthodontist appointments to my schedule every few months.
So, when I was in prison, I had healthy, straight teeth, but I did have some gum issues due to genetics and smoking. Unfortunately, I found right away that going to the dentist to fix these issues was next to impossible.
Because many inmates either have a history of methamphetamine use or come from poor families with limited access to dental care, many have bad teeth or no teeth at all. Some of them wore full or partial dentures on their way to prison. But, can you wear dentures in prison?
In this blog post, I will cover the following topics:
- The Challenge of Seeing a Dentist in Prison
- Dental Care in Prison
- How Lack of Dental Care Can Make Life After Prison Difficult
How to Make a Dentist Appointment in Prison
Rules about wearing dentures vary from prison to prison. In federal prisons, inmates brought in with dentures can wear them, and all the necessary tools, such as soaking dishes, adhesives and cleaners, are available at the commissary.
Full and partial dentures are also provided, when required, to prisoners serving sentences of more than three years. This policy is part of the Bureau of Prisons’ Comprehensive Dental Treatment Program. However, fitting dentures may take monthsㅡ or yearsㅡ as it is considered secondary and a last resort after treating oral disease.
In state prisons, the rules are everywhere. In Missouri, you can wear dentures, and if you need them after incarceration, you may be eligible to wear them. The commissary also offers denture adhesives and cleaners.
Unfortunately, that’s not the case in many states.according to Associated Press, Many inmates in Texas prisons don’t have access to dentures even if they don’t have teeth. In 2016, only 71 inmates in the state, which has an inmate population of nearly 150,000, wore dentures.
In Washington state, an inmate sued the Department of Corrections over their dental policy after being denied dentures.
Good luck if you want to book a dental appointment in prison. In my experience, you have to be incarcerated for at least six months before making an appointment request. After submitting your request, you will be placed on a waiting list and it will take over a year to get an appointment. It was obviously a short wait compared to other facilities. In California, some inmates wait up to eight years to see a dentist.
In the four years I have been incarcerated, I have been to the dentist twice. I needed to have a tooth extracted but declined the procedure due to lack of medication or anesthesia. I couldn’t have done my dental work without Novocaine.
In his opinion, my teeth and gums are terrible. The straightening I got from braces was replaced by gaps and broken teeth. I’m still saving money for my dentist and I’ve been out of prison for two years.
Dental Care in Prison
Because ordinary-sized toothbrushes can be turned into weapons, prisoners are not allowed to buy them. Instead, commissary sells tiny toothbrushes that are about three inches long and barely grippable.
Cheap toothpaste is also available, and if there is an active local charity they will donate a ‘Christmas pack’ which may include designer toothpaste. Based on past experience, I can’t tell you about the sales pitches and deals that happen on tubes of toothpaste.
They don’t sell traditional dental floss in the commissary, but you can buy tiny plastic floss rings. However, no one uses them for flossing. Instead, people use them as hair ties when doing cornrows or other types of braids.
There is also cheap mouthwash available for purchase, as well as some items needed for dentures.
How Lack of Dental Care Can Make Life After Prison Difficult
Due to the difficulty in obtaining proper dental care in prison, many inmates find their teeth and gums progressively deteriorate during their incarceration. This could make it harder than it is for inmates to find work after release because of their felon status.
While prisoners have a constitutional right to dental care, courts have given no guidance on what services prisons must provide. As a result, this resulted in long waits and low levels of care.
It also means that prison dentists extract prisoners’ damaged teeth rather than repairing them due to costly procedures such as crowns and bridges. Dental care in some places is so poor that some prisoners develop serious problems long after their release. Poor dental care is just one more hurdle ex-cons must overcome.
Do you think prisoners should have proper dental care? Let us know in the comments below.
Sources: Dental Services Texas prisons often deny dentures to inmates with no teeth Wash. inmate sues prison over dentures policy Another Hurdle For Former Inmates: Their Teeth