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  • Doug Tjapkes

Got a toothache? Who cares?

“For there was never yet a philosopher that could endure the toothache patiently.” — William Shakespeare We don’t do a lot of thinking about our teeth. Not until something goes wrong...cavity perhaps, maybe a broken tooth. Then we call our dentist. Need help right away. 'T’ain’t that way in Michigan prisons, however, and it may take a lawsuit to change it. Here’s the sad story about our Michigan Department of Corrections. Prisoners cannot get dental care during their first two years in prison! The only time they can is if the treatment is considered urgent — and being toothless does not count! The amazing thing is the MDOC doesn’t see anything wrong with this! Department spokesman Chris Gautz told a writer for the Marshall Project that the agency’s dental care (or lack of) does not violate the Constitution’s ban on cruel and unusual punishment and is “far better than what the majority of the prisoners received prior to entering prison.” As if that makes any difference. In response to that, I have good news and bad news. The good news is that someone is doing something about it. The bad news is that it’s taking forever. Our friend Dan Manville, who heads up the Civil Rights Unit at Michigan State University’s College of Law, has filed a law suit. Dan actually served time before he became an attorney, and he has a genuine heart for those behind bars. “Most people in society have at one point in time had some type of tooth pain, and they know how bad it can be,” he told Keri Blakinger, writer for the Marshall Project. Manville is suing the state’s prison system and its medical providers over these nutty dental practices. “But in a system where you have to wait two years for dental care, it’s barbaric.” Said Keri Blakinger’s story: Manville’s legal battle started after prisoner Robert Johannes lost a filling. When the prison dentist tried to replace it, the whole tooth broke off. Over the next few years, dentists kept pulling teeth until he could no longer chew – but, according to the lawsuit, the prison still refused to give him dentures. If a cavity hurt too much, the dentist would tell prisoners they could wait at least two years for a filling — or just agree to an extraction right away. The case probably won’t go to trial until next year. I guess, for a person behind bars, a toothache just may be “something they’ve got coming.” Does anyone care? “Love conquers all things except poverty and toothache.” - Mae West

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