I've wanted to work on a story about dental care in the United States for a number of months, because so many Americans simply can't afford it. The issue has a direct correlation to one's ability to get work. If you're missing teeth, it can be hard to get a job – thus impossible to be insured. It's all a vicious cycle.
I started doing research around the beginning of the year and was surprised to learn just how many Americans live in "dental shortage areas," where there are simply not enough dentists to fill the need. As the economy makes everyday life more difficult, even where there are enough dentists, it's getting tougher for people to afford care. Even "basic" services are becoming a luxury for many.
For months I've been chatting with a woman in Frederick, Md., who runs a mobile dental clinic there (called Mission of Mercy) and she introduced me to Bruce Bergstrom who is the executive director a group called CBS Evening News piece. Cindy Rogers is a mother who works in a local sandwich shop but doesn't have dental insurance. Cindy says she and her family are caught in the middle: "We don't make enough to buy medical insurance, and we make too much to get state help," she said.
About 800 volunteers help put this together, along with aide from America's Dentists Care Foundation and state dental associations (like the association in Colorado that raised money to put on this program). More than 100 dentists volunteer their skill to help provide care that would otherwise be out of reach – fillings, cleanings, extractions, and root canals among them. To see all of these people come together to fill a need is remarkable.