A 24-year-old Cincinnati father died from a tooth infection this week because he couldn't afford his medication, offering a sobering reminder of the importance of oral health and the number of people without access to dental or health care.
According to NBC affiliate WLWT, Kyle Willis' wisdom tooth started hurting two weeks ago. When dentists told him it needed to be pulled, he decided to forgo the procedure, because he was unemployed and had no health insurance.
When his face started swelling and his head began to ache, Willis went to the emergency room, where he received prescriptions for antibiotics and pain medications. Willis couldn't afford both, so he chose the pain medications.
The tooth infection spread, causing his brain to swell. He died Tuesday.
And yet that's the reality of the country we live in. America is the richest, most advanced, most powerful country ever according to conservatives, and if you don't agree you hate America. But at the same time, conservatives scream bloody murder that there's no way Americans can afford to help the least among us, because programs to do so immorally traps the nation's poor in unending poverty, where they are a drain on the "job creators".
Conservatives say only America can lead the world from a moral and military standpoint, American exceptionalism is our manifest destiny on the global stage. And then they turn around and warn that we are a bankrupt, destitute, third-world socialist hellhole where the "misguided efforts" to "bribe" the weakest among us with government assistance is the only way a Democrat could ever get elected.
God wants Republicans in power, they say. When a Democrat is elected, God hasn't failed, but the people have been fooled by the evil Socialist liberals. America would be a shining utopia, and example to peoples across the planet, if we just got over our baser instincts to help the poor and simply left them to their own fate.
If that's confusing you, congratulations. You have a conscience and are capable of both complex logic and compassion. It also means you're probably not a Republican. Here's the worst, most tragic part of Willis' death:
"People want to believe there's a safety net that catches all of these people, and there isn't," said Dr. Glenn Stream, president-elect of the American Academy of Family Physicians. He noted that it is often young men who are the most likely to lack health coverage.
Dr. Jim Jirjis, director of general internal medicine at Vanderbilt University, said people, like Willis, without access to care often die of conditions that were much more common decades ago.
"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."
There are a number of free dental clinics in operation around the country, where dentists volunteer to provide care to those without health insurance. But even if Willis had access to a free dental clinic, Stream said he still may not have been able to get the care he needed for his infection. "The wait is often months at these clinics, and this young man died within two weeks of his problem," Stream said.
According to the article one in three Americans forgo dental checkups because they can't afford them. Even if you have dental insurance, you have to take time off from work to go to the dentist, and the combination of the expense and lost work time puts even simple dental care out of reach for some 100 million Americans.
And yet the richest country on Earth can't afford to help its own poor. There's something deeply wrong with that.