Just about every night that I am home, I make a late-night journey to Dunkin’ Donuts®. I usually get a decaffeinated iced coffee for the rest of the night, but I also buy my iced coffee (high-test) for the next morning so that I don’t have to make a stop on the way into work.
I have made a new friend at my local Dunkin’ Donuts: her name is Helen (not her real name). She works the 10 pm – 6 am shift just about every night. When I drive up to the drive-up window, she now knows my voice and says,”Drive up, Mike, gotcha covered!”
Helen and I exchange niceties and talk about our town and our dogs. The only thing that is truly off-putting about Helen is her dentition. Her teeth (what ones remain) are in a horrible state. She obviously suffers from advanced periodontal disease.
I finally got the courage to ask her about her teeth. She is a very matter-of-fact, salt-of-the-earth type of lady, and I thought our relationship was at the point where I could ask. Helen knows what I do for a living, so I thought it was, safe to ask, although very uncomfortable.
Helen told me that she hasn’t been to a dentist in over ten years. She can barely afford her rent and dog food, let alone dental care. She pays $200 a month for health insurance, which probably covers very little. Helen was not shy about saying the following, “Mike, I don’t smile much. You are one of my few customers that I even talk to. I know my teeth are bad; I do what I can and brush them every day. I know I should quit smoking, but it is one of the few pleasures that I have left. I guess I am at the point where I am waiting to have my teeth just pulled out and get dentures. But that decision will make me feel really old, I am only 52!”
I said to Helen, “What if I could find a dentist or clinic that would take you on for free or a much reduced price?” She responded to me, “Thanks, Mike, but I can barely keep myself and my family going. I couldn’t make the time, and to tell you the truth, my teeth don’t matter that much to me, but thanks, see you tomorrow night.”
How many “Helens” are there in the US right now? In the world? How many systemic medical conditions will arise? I am still shaking my head thinking about an answer or solution, what do you think?