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  • Help A Child Smile

Death from a toothache, the sad story of Deamonte Driver

Updated: May 5

There are tragic results when dental care is out of reach and the sobering case of Deamonte Driver shines a spotlight on the difficulties that poor families face in gaining access to dental care and regular preventative treatment.

Deamonte was a 12 year old boy who lived in Maryland. He had a decayed infected tooth and needed an extraction.  However, his family was poor working-class and relied on Medicaid for affordable healthcare. His mother had no dental insurance and the family's Medicaid approval paperwork was stuck in an overburdened system.The Medicaid system had become increasingly complex, with private companies contracting with the government to offer managed care plans and only a defined networks of dentists accepting that plan. Medicaid dentists were difficult to find, booked out for weeks in advance due to high need for services, and the low reimbursements and bureaucratic headaches often led them to dropping out of the network.

In the midst of all this, infection from Deamonte's tooth traveled to his brain. He was taken to the hospital but after six weeks and two brain surgeries, Deamonte Driver died. An $80 dollar extraction which could have saved him, turned into a 250,000 medical ordeal and his life was needlessly lost. It was only after the national spotlight that his death created, that his mother was able to obtain extractions for his brother Deshawn who also had ten seriously decayed teeth.

Deamonte’s death sparked outrage in Maryland and the Medicaid dental-care system received heavy criticism. Thousands of children were being unable to connect with Medicaid-providing dentists and only one-third of the state’s 500,000 Medicaid-covered children had received dental treatment in the year before Deamonte’s death.  Ironically, Prince George’s County, the county that failed Deamonte Driver, was named one of the best places in the country for children’s dental care.

This sad reality is that his tragic death could have been prevented. Deamonte Driver's story underscores the growing need in this wealthy country to provide adequate dental care to our nation's children.

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