Cavity in dental coverage in Missouri could be filled

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KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Missourians on Medicaid haven't had dental coverage since 2005. Now the legislature appears ready to fill that cavity.

Dabbie Johnson has no teeth. Sixteen badly decayed ones were pulled in recent months at Seton Center's dental clinic.

"It affects everything -- getting a job, the way people judge you," said the 35-year-old Kansas City woman.

She believes some teeth would have been saved if she'd had dental coverage under Medicaid. It was eliminated by Missouri lawmakers in 2005.

"I suffered. I suffered a lot because there was only the emergency room and, you know, after a while the emergency room got tired of seeing me because I didn't make it to dental 'cause I didn't have the money to afford it," said Johnson.

Now Missouri House and Senate committees want to restore coverage, putting $48 million in state and federal dollars in next year's budget. That follows a report showing emergency room visits by Medicaid patients for dental problems have skyrocketed.

"We need our legislative body to understand that, in fact, they'll save a great deal of money by taking care of people's dental needs first," said Sister Loreto Marie Colwell, the executive director of Seton Center.

She says routine care can prevent costly dental and medical problems. In 2009, we introduced you to a Sedalia woman who couldn't afford to have an abscessed tooth pulled and wound up in intensive care. The medical bill was $150,000.

Lawmakers, including State Senator Rob Schaaf of St. Joseph, now support the dental funding after opposing it then.

Johnson won't be toothless much longer. She's getting dentures free through a United Way grant.

"I get my life back, my smile back. It means everything to me," said Johnson.

She believes if Medicaid coverage is restored, other smiles can be saved.

Missouri lawmakers need to work out exactly how the dental funds would be spent before the bill gets final approval.

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