Toothache for Children of the Recession

Lynda Paskiewicz and her children at the free dental clinic in La Crosse, Wisconsin. CBS

Eight-year-old Mikey Paskiewicz and his 7-year-old sister, Lulu love to bowl.

Their mother Lynda is just as passionate about the kids brushing their teeth. She even sets a timer to prevent shortcuts.

The family has been without dental insurance ever since Lynda lost her job at a western Wisconsin boat maker two years ago, reports CBS News Correspondent Cynthia Bowers.

"I was more or less relying on God to take care of us," she said.

So Paskiewicz felt her prayers were answered, when the Wisconsin Dental Association recently staged a mission of mercy: free dental care to anyone, at a La Crosse sports arena.

Over two days, more than 1,300 people came calling. Some waiting all night, many with children.

Lynda Paskiewicz drove an hour, before dawn, so her children could make their first-ever visit to the dentist.

"Without this, I don't know what we could have done because she needs care now. He needs care now. I can use care now," she said.

They're not alone. It's estimated that some 12 million children face serious barriers to dental care, involving either high cost or lack of dental insurance.

"If there's nothing left at the end of the day, health care is what suffers the most," said Shelley Bolton who attended the clinic.

Clinics like the one in La Crosse help. But in this economy, with folks struggling just to put food on the table and pay their mortgages, a trip to the dentist is often the first thing to go.

In fact, a recent survey found 36 percent of Americans have cut back on regular visits because of the cost.

Dr. Gene Shoemaker helped organize the volunteer effort. He worries that parents trying to save money on dental care now will pay far more later.

"By the time it hurts somebody, it usually involves more treatment -- which means more cost and more time to the patient," he said.

And the result can be disastrous. Two years ago, a homeless 12-year-old Maryland boy named Deamonte Driver died from an infection that started with a cavity and spread to his brain.

"Our goal is to get those teeth taken care of before it becomes a problem to that tragic degree," said Shoemaker.

Lynda Paskiewicz knows it's been risky to delay trips to the dentist. But the news this day was pretty good. Lulu had two small cavities. Mikey needed a baby tooth pulled.

And a few days later, Lynda started a new job that offers dental benefits. Another prayer answered for the Paskiewicz family, but something that remains only a distant hope for millions of others.
  • Cynthia Bowers

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