Maureen Haley, 66, lost her home in Florida following the 2008 recession. She now lives in an RV near Greensboro, NC, relying on Social Security and Medicare for make ends meet and pay for health care.

But Haley has problems with her teeth and can’t afford to see a dentist for them to be repaired.

“My teeth problems are the biggest problem I have every day,” Haley said. “I need root canals and implants. I have dental impaction. I have to massage the devil to get the air out of my gums and cheeks after chewing a meal. Painful is an understatement, and worrying about how this might affect my heart makes it worse. “

She is afraid of remaining independent and of not ending up in a retirement home. With limited income, his decisions revolve around what is most pressing, such as car repairs and drug prescriptions. The last time she was able to see a dentist was three years ago, and she was given an estimate of over $ 8,500 for the work she needed.

Haley is one of the millions of Americans who lack dental insurance coverage and cannot afford to pay out of pocket for many dental needs, including almost two thirds of Medicare beneficiaries – approximately 37 million people. A valued 74 million Americans do not have dental insurance coverage. A investigation According to the CareQuest Institute for Oral Health published in April, an estimated 6 million Americans lost their dental insurance during the pandemic.

the disparities in oral health in the United States are prevalent among racial and economic lineages, with black, Hispanic, and low-income Americans having higher rates of tooth decay, gum disease, and oral cancer, such as more than half of Americans avoid or delay health care, including dental treatment, due to high costs.

The importance of oral health is directly related to overall health. Dental problems are bound, or suspected to be related, to cardiovascular problems and other serious health problems such as diabetes and Alzheimer’s disease.

Loxi Hopkins, 68, of Davenport, Iowa, and her husband have serious dental problems – but their Medicare plan won’t cover anything.

She is currently in need of thousands of dollars in dental repairs.

“I lost most of my teeth. We put it off for as long as possible and then just do the baseline treatment, ”Hopkins said. “It’s disappointing to work our whole life and in what we call our golden years we live with stress and often pain.”

Recently, she had a tooth pulled out after a crown came off and her gums became too sore to eat, and during that time she was trying to figure out how to avoid seeing a dentist because of the costs. . She had her tooth removed for $ 235, then had to spend an additional $ 200 for an oral surgeon consultation to have the root removed – only to not be able to afford the recommended treatment for several hundred dollars. additional.

“I cried on the way home. I thought about not removing the root because of the money. I tried and the remaining tooth was so sharp my tongue bled, ”Hopkins added. “I’m going to have to remove another tooth on my partial implant because that’s the tooth I’m biting with and now I have to tear up small bites of sandwiches and put them in my mouth because I can’t bite.” I might have to live like this if I can’t save the money to add the tooth to the partial.

Supporters of expanding dental coverage are pushing Joe Biden and members of Congress are expected to include expansion plans in upcoming coronavirus or health care bills. The calls to action come as the impact of the coronavirus pandemic has exacerbated racial and economic inequalities among those who can access dental care. Millions of Americans have lost dental insurance or suffered economic impacts from the pandemic, resulting in greater delays or avoidance of care due to high costs.

“Dental care is the No 1 medical service that Americans are skipping because of the cost, ”said Melissa Burroughs, associate director of the oral health campaign for the nonprofit consumer health organization, Families USA.

“Oral health is not just a health issue, it is a matter of social justice and equity.”

For Americans like Elizabeth, a 69-year-old woman near Tampa, Florida, that expanded dental coverage can’t come soon enough. She and her husband struggle with dental issues they can’t afford to fix, while also relying on Medicare and medicaid for prescriptions and other covered medical services.

Most of her husband’s teeth are gone, Elizabeth said, as she suffers from periodontitis, a serious gum infection.

“I have loose, sore teeth that prohibit anything substantial from painlessly chewing, and a lifelong infection that cannot be treated with Medicare,” she said. “Between the cost of the office visits, the treatment of infections, the extraction of the rest of my teeth and new prostheses, for us, it is impossible. The little nest egg we saved would disappear and we would be left with no money to cover an emergency. “

The couple already live on incomes below the poverty line, and they depend on Social Security and Snap assistance, all the while worrying about the major repairs they need to their home, such as a leaky roof and a roof. termite infestation, but can’t afford to repair, or hoping their old car doesn’t need repairs or it will leave them stranded.

“We are grateful for the help we receive, especially with food intake, but our ability to fully benefit from foods that would contribute to better health is either uneatenable or difficult to eat. It hurts, ”Elizabeth said.

“Everything has to be made into small pieces that don’t need to be chewed, or reduced to very small pieces. Otherwise, you suck in the pain and eat while your mouth becomes a minefield.