Bad teeth cost Californians jobs, self-confidence

2016 12 12 14 55 46 670 California Flag 400

Can bad teeth hinder your self-confidence and chances at a new job? Many low-income Californians say yes. A new article by the Fresno Bee explored the difficulty some California residents encounter when trying to get a functional smile.

Delilah Garcia, one California resident profiled in the article, chipped a tooth after she was hit in the face with a wine bottle during a bar fight. On job interviews, Garcia worked to hide her tooth, including covering her mouth with her hand when she spoke and giving interviewers a tight-lipped, toothless smile.

"You're trying to put your best foot forward but you can't, because your tooth is not there," Garcia is quoted in the article.

Garcia applied for multiple jobs and often never heard back, the Fresno Bee reported. She suspected that her chipped tooth was part of the reason for her difficulty in finding a job, and she isn't the only California resident who thinks a poor smile can hinder employment opportunities. Almost one-third of low-income Californians report that the appearance of their mouth and teeth affects their ability to get a job, according to an ADA statistic quoted in the article.

“You're trying to put your best foot forward but you can't, because your tooth is not there.”
— Delilah Garcia

However, getting comprehensive dental care can be a struggle for those with dental coverage through California's dental Medicaid program, Denti-Cal. The state gutted its adult dental benefits during the recession, and although California restored full benefits in 2018, many Denti-Cal enrollees struggle to find a dentist who will provide more than extractions -- if they can find a dentist who accepts Denti-Cal at all.

At least one expert says only about one-quarter of California dentists accept Medicaid, and many dentists cite the program's low reimbursement rates for not participating in the program or for only taking a few Denti-Cal patients. John Blake, DDS, a dentist who runs a nonprofit clinic that accepts Medicaid patients, previously told that he has to rely on donations to cover the bills.

"The only way to make ends meet is that 50% of our revenue comes from donated sources, grants, individual donations," Dr. Blake said in 2016. "And that's just to kind of make a living in the Denti-Cal system."

Although California recently raised reimbursement rates for some procedures, Denti-Cal enrollees still struggle to find dentists who will treat them.

As for Garcia, after relying on a series of temporary restorations, she eventually got a permanent filling from a free dental clinic that operates out of a homeless shelter. She then reapplied for a job at one of the companies that had previously rejected her. One of the hiring managers congratulated her on her new tooth -- and she got the job.

Now, Garcia makes $70 per hour, the Fresno Bee reported. She also has private, comprehensive dental coverage from Aetna that will presumably cover any future chipped teeth.

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