CBS Warns of Dental 'Death Spiral,' Ignores Problems with Public Dental Care

     Ignoring market-based solutions entirely, CBS ‘”Evening News” told the story of “The Other America” on June 29 – an America it claimed includes “100 million Americans without dental insurance.”

     The story, which didn’t give a source for that statistic, mentioned people pulling out their own teeth with pliers and pushed the common media solution for health problems: government-run universal health insurance.

     “One team of Harvard researchers asked Americans across the country what their first priority would be if the U.S. had universal health care. The most common answer: their teeth. And those researchers told CBS News a lot of Americans are taking their teeth into their own hands – literally. With pliers,” said CBS News correspondent Michelle Miller.

     The irony is that in Britain, universal care has actually driven people to do the same thing.

     Miller’s report included Dr. Susan Sered, a proponent of universal coverage who wrote the book “Uninsured in America,” and Dr. Allan Formicola, former dean of Columbia University’s School of Dental and Oral Surgery.

     Sered warned of a “death spiral” for the “second class of Americans – disfigured by rotting and missing teeth.”

     “If they lose their job they’re going to lose their health care coverage. Lose their health care coverage, they can’t take care of their health. Can’t take care of their health, their health deteriorates. Their health deteriorates, they become less employable,” warned Sered. Miller also mentioned the tragic case of 12-year-old Deamonte Driver, who died in 2007 after an abscessed tooth went untreated for too long.

     But no one in the story, including Miller, mentioned private solutions or the government regulations that can prevent people from getting the dental care they need.

     According to the Cato Institute’s Michael F. Cannon, the answer to situations like Driver’s is not universal coverage. As a Maryland resident, Driver had “reduce[d] access to the very type of early intervention that [he] needed” because of “consumer protection” laws that prevent dental hygienists from working with patients without the supervision of a dentist, said Cannon.

     CBS didn’t include any criticism of dental care in countries like Great Britain that have universal coverage.

     A May 7, 2006, New York Times story focused on “deficiencies in Britain’s state-financed dental service.” According to the article, it is “stretched beyond its limit, no longer serves everyone and no longer even pretends to try.”

     The result: some British people have removed their own teeth with pliers. CBS didn’t make that connection.

     The Times article said the country has too few “public dentists” because they are “discouraged by what they say is the assembly-line nature of the job and by a new contract that pays them to perform a set number of ‘units of dental activity’ per year.” So dentists are choosing private practice over Britain’s National Health Service.


     Care under the NHS was also lacking, according to the article. The Times quoted a nurse who said “when she worked in the National Health Services one dentist in the practice performed cleanings in five minutes flat.”

     Russ Mitchell introduced the CBS report with the debunked statistic of “estimated 47 million Americans who have no medical insurance.” As the Business & Media Institute and others have pointed out, that includes nearly 10 million non-citizens and roughly 17 million who might be choosing to be uninsured, making substantially more than the median household income of $46,326.