Superglue for Teeth? Desperate DIY Health Care

Doctors, patients report more do-it-yourself health care in the bad economy.

ByABC News
March 11, 2009, 6:07 PM

March 12, 2009— -- It's 2009, not 1909, but more people are willing to do their own health care and dentistry these days.

"It's one of my front teeth, I had just been supergluing it in," said September Williamson of Grand Junction, Colo.

The mortgage is due, the kids have needs, and the dental insurance doesn't cover a ninth of the cost of your dental work. At that point, applying superglue to your crowns didn't seem too unreasonable for Williams.

But, the superglue was just one of a whole set of tooth troubles. Unable to pay for more expensive treatments, Williamson said she's resorted to just pulling out the problem teeth.

"I've had five teeth total pulled, one of them was a wisdom tooth," said Williamson. "A couple of months ago, I was just frustrated with the whole thing -- I'm not the only person out there."

Emergency room physicians, social workers and advocates for the uninsured or underinsured agree.

Although the poor have always employed questionable home treatments, some health care workers have noticed a recent increase in desperate attempts by people to play doctor out of economic desperation.

"They'll pull rather than try to fix; that's a huge, huge issue," said Joan Whitaker, director of health services at the Action for Boston Community Development Center in Massachusetts.

While dental insurance rarely covers the cost of more expensive treatment, health insurance doesn't always cut it either, Whitaker said.

"Even if people have health insurance right now it doesn't mean that they have money for their co-payments," she said.

Whitaker works with many low income families in the Boston area. She said that recently time, rather than money can be an issue for patients.

"What's happening with a lot of people is they are putting off finding out about problems, because if they're in low paying jobs, and if they take time off they're afraid they won't have a job when they get back," she said. "They're out here working one or two jobs but they are still marginalized, because one thing could happen to them and they can lose it all."

As Williamson knows, delaying medical and dental care can land someone with bigger bills than preventive care would.