Transitions Clinic Network (TCN) is a network of community health clinics that serve returning community members. TCN clinics are led by Community Health Workers (CHWs) with lived experience of incarceration who support people with their healthcare and reentry. TCN hosts a monthly Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) column. This column is a space where we answer questions about health care and empower individuals to prepare for healthy reentry. This month we are writing about oral health and dental services.
■ Why should I pay attention to my oral health?
We don’t think of our teeth much until there is a problem, but if you have ever had a toothache, you know how important oral health is! Taking care of your teeth, gums, and mouth is important for our overall health, especially as we get older. Aging and not taking care of our mouth can cause tooth decay, tooth loss, or gum infections. These problems make eating more difficult and can increase the risk of other health issues! Good oral health can help you keep your teeth for the long haul and prevent diabetes, heart disease, and even breathing problems.
■ What can I do to keep my teeth and gums healthy?
Some common-sense daily practices for good oral health include:
Brush your teeth (and tongue) at least twice a day.
Floss at least once a day.
If you wear dentures, clean your dentures twice daily. Brush your gums with a soft brush.
Eat a healthy diet. Limit sugary snacks and drinks which can cause cavities.
Do not smoke or chew tobacco. It can stain your teeth, give you bad breath, and cause cancers.
See a dentist for regular check-ups and cleanings every year.
■ How do I pay for dental services in the community?
While you are incarcerated at CDCR, the State pays for your health care services. In the community, having health insurance helps pay for these services. Medi-Cal is California’s public insurance (Medicaid) program for people with low-income. Most people coming out of prison qualify for Medi-Cal. You will want to apply for Medi-Cal insurance before leaving CDCR and call the county to turn on your insurance when you get out. If you are on Medi-Cal, you qualify for the Medi-Cal Dental Program.
■ What dental services will Medi-Cal pay for?
The Medi-Cal Dental Program will pay up to $1,800 in a year for certain dental services (or more if it is medically necessary). Many of the services you will need are offered free or at low-cost through Medi-Cal. Though keep in mind, some services that are covered may require special approval before your insurance will pay for it. And there may be some services that are not included in your Medi-Cal. When you go the dentist, you will be asked to show proof of your insurance and you may be required to pay a small amount up-front for some services, called a “co-pay”.
■ How do I find a dentist in the community?
After you get out, you will have to find a dentist in your local community that accepts Medi-Cal insurance. Sometimes health clinics offer dental care and sometimes you have to go to a separate dentist office. If you need help finding a dentist, you can visit SmileCalifornia.org or call (800) 322-6384. Once you find a dentist, call to schedule an appointment (and don’t be surprised if you must wait weeks or months for your appointment). Even if you don’t need dental care right away, it’s a good idea to make an appointment with a dentist for a regular checkup and to keep your teeth healthy! If you feel you need dental care sooner (due to a broken tooth, tooth pain, or some other concern) let the dentist office know and ask about emergency care or walk-in services.
Keep those teeth healthy each day and keep on smiling!
If you have healthcare-related questions about reentry, feel free to write us at: Transitions Clinic Network, 2403 Keith Street, San Francisco, CA 94124. Or call our Reentry Health Hotline today at (510) 606-6400 to speak with a CHW and to see if there’s a TCN program in your community of return. We accept collect calls from CDCR. We are open M-F 9am-5pm.