An inmate gets freed from prison, he or she has no job, no money, a prison record, often poor or no skills—and bad teeth. There’s a stigma about bad teeth which compounds reentry into society. It makes it much harder to feel natural in an interview and to be able to get a job. 74 million people in the US lack dental care, and often the former inmate’s dental problem began way before prison. While there, though, although dental care is a constitutional right, there are no guidelines, and cost is usually a factor which means procedures such as crowns or bridges are considered elective dentistry, and therefore not covered. Many who are incarcerated are on waiting lists for dental care, sometimes up to 8 years. All this adds up that during the time they are incarcerated many dental problems are solved by extraction. It costs about $200 to extract a tooth and obviously much more to perform some other procedure. So people come out of prison with a lot of missing teeth, and sometimes those missing teeth are in front. And it is not only missing teeth, gums are affected too weakening the teeth and creating an open door for other diseases.
It’s more than a healthcare and dental care issue. It has to do with our philosophy about incarceration and the injustices that too often accompany it. Not only do we incarcerate people but we do it in such a way that it’s as if their debt to society has to be paid over and over. We enlarge their problems in such a way that after their release their productivity and usefulness is lessened. In the end we along with the society of which we are a part end up losing at least as much if not more than former inmates.