Texas refuses dentures to inmates because ‘chewing isn’t a medical necessity’ – By Rebecca Pilar & Buckwalter Poza (dailykos.com) / Sept 25 2018
Texas had a state prison population of almost 150,000 in 2016, but the state approved just 71 requests for dentures. That same year, California—which had 19,000 fewer people in prison—provided more than 4,800 pairs of dentures to inmates. Over the past 10 years, Texas has given out just one-sixth as many dentures to inmates as California.
Texas put the policy in place in 2003. Its Department of Criminal Justice claims it’s a “medical decision.” Technically, any inmate with six or fewer teeth is supposed to be evaluated for dentures. But unless inmates are underweight or have related medical concerns, they’re unlikely to get dental prostheses.
The official standard for underweight? Ten percent or more below the recommended Body Mass Index minimum for their height. An exception may be made for an inmate at healthy weight who’s clearly losing weight. Even extreme weight loss, though, may not secure a ailing inmate a shot at dentures.
Texas’s policy is exacerbating extant disparities.
People sentenced to prison tend to arrive at a dental disadvantage. Leading causes include poor prior care and drug-related complications. Even those who enter without dental issues are subject to the sequelae of poor care in prison and advancing age. What’s particularly galling about the current situation is that some inmates only consented to have their remaining teeth pulled on the belief they’d get dentures.
Upon losing their teeth, or original set of dentures, inmates are given, at best, “blended” meals. These are not smoothies, to be clear, but the product of pureeing regular mealtime fare. The blended alternative is unpleasant enough that some people opt instead for regular meals, despite the difficulty entailed in eating solid food and the hazard it poses to their gums.
The nine-member Correctional Managed Health Care Committee reconsiders the denture policy every two years. That means they’ve declined to adopt a more humane standard of care at least five times.