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Dear Brian

I am listening to Emmylou Harris and Dolly Parton collaborate on “Coat of many Colors” as i write this. Recently, I read an article about how our dental health is determined by our poverty. I feel compelled to write you (even though I know you will never read this) about that very subject. In our last communique, you wrote that my daughter/niece had “dental issues that could have been easily fixed” in her youth. Then you closed the door to further communication as if this very subject ruined her life.

You have not raised children.

You have not studied genetics.

You are a self-made highway engineer and you not only make good money but you have good insurance. You have forgotten your own parent’s struggle to make sense of this world. You think because you know us now in our comfortable middle age that we are – or were – well to do, or at least have/had great dental insurance.

I get your misunderstanding of the situation. The media paints it that way. But bear with me.

I was not born into poverty. My parents were lower middle class. We had government insurance but that insurance did not cover vision or dental so well. And my siblings and I had dental issues. We inherited them from my mother’s side of the family, not from my father. No amount of flouride would change the outcome, but let us make this clear at the beginning: there was no flouride in the water of Winnemucca, Nevada, in the 1960s. We kids were on our own. We had a good family dentist – my best friend’s father. Thirty years later, I would have dentists look into my mouth only to declare what an artisan had filled my teeth in my childhood. Doc did the best with the technology available. I was one of his exemplary students. If he said “Floss”, I flossed.

My sister never did take care of her teeth. She lost them all in her mid-twenties. Her children developed problems early on, most commonly “bottle teeth” . You should read that.

Chrystal came to us with a mouth of decay. I was in my late thirties, early forties. I was dealing with the decay of my own teeth brought about by generations of poor dental insurance. I had good dental hygiene by then, but the genetics that formed this family were in full force. And I had Chrystal. I took her to dentists and paid as much as I could per annual deductibles. I stood between her and dentists she didn’t like. I held her hand through extractions that put her under. I watched my own dentist wince as she jerked in pain from procedures. I scheduled appointments with different clinics, hoping one would connect with her and her pain – and work with us financially. In the end, it was Chrystal who decided she wanted nothing more to do with the dentists we sent her to.

She chose decay and pain over what we could offer. We could only offer what we could afford. American insurance doesn’t recognize dental health as integral to overall health despite the studies.

I am 63 years old. I have my Wisdom teeth but I am missing ten molars from my jaw. I have spent countless hours in a dentist’s chair- of my own accord – having my teeth fixed. I did this mostly on my own, after I left my parents’ insurance. They could not pay for the work I needed. It’s merely a fact of life. You think that Chrystal’s dental issues could have been “easily taken care of”. I know you to be someone who has never been a parent or lived blow the poverty line. Ask my other children. I only hope they inherited their father’s teeth = not mine.

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