Dental Care in Prison

If you are preparing for prison, or if a loved one will be entering the prison system soon, you may have questions about whether prison dentistry services are available. The short answer is yes, dental care is available for inmates in federal prisons.

However, inmates should understand that the majority of dental care while in jail is reactive rather than preventive. In other words, dental services are available for emergency situations and for other non-emergency situations requiring treatment, but prisoners should not expect to be able to schedule regular semi-annual cleanings and preventive dental exams. While these services are available, it can take years to receive them.

How to Get Dental Care in Prison

Dental Emergencies

When dental emergencies arise, the pain can be excruciating. Just as 24-hour emergency medical care is available for inmates, so too is emergency dental care. However, what constitutes an emergency situation is not always clear and is up to interpretation.

In most federal prisons, inmates can take advantage of “Emergency Dental Sick Call” services where they can have their teeth x-rayed. If dental problems are deemed to be emergencies, they are generally addressed within 1-2 weeks. These emergency services are generally available several days every week.

Non-Emergency Dental Treatment

The Federal Bureau of Prisons also provides non-emergency dental treatment for inmates as needed. This includes things such as filling cavities and addressing other problems that are causing pain or impacting a prisoner’s ability to eat or sleep. This category also includes cleanings.

If you have your teeth x-rayed and examined during the Emergency Dental Sick Call, but your issue is not considered an emergency, be prepared to wait for treatment. Unfortunately, the wait list for non-emergency care can sometimes span years.

Quality of Care Concerns

Unfortunately, the quality of dental care in jail is often affected by the fact that there are typically only a few dental professionals available to serve the needs of the entire prison population. This is also a major reason for the long wait times mentioned above for non-emergency care. Another contributing factor is that many people entering prison have not placed a high priority on their dental health before being incarcerated, increasing the likelihood of needing emergency care while in jail.

Inmates and former inmates have also complained about the dental treatment they received in prison. Unfortunately, dental clinicians serving prisoners often choose to pull damaged or decayed teeth rather than working to restore teeth by repairing broken fillings or using more expensive crowns, bridges, or dental implants. These procedures are considered “cosmetic” in most cases, meaning they are deemed to have limited medical value.

Prisoners can purchase toothbrushes, dental floss, and toothpaste in prison, but the available options are generic and not effective for every prisoner. Still, making an effort to establish or maintain a habit of brushing and flossing teeth while in jail may help decrease the likelihood of needing emergency dental care.

Preparing for Prison Can Ease the Transition

While prisoners have a constitutional right to receive dental care in correctional facilities, there are unfortunately not clearly defined standards beyond a general understanding that prisons must provide prompt treatment when an inmate experiences more than minimal pain. As is the case with some other types of services, the quality of dental care can vary from prison to prison.

In addition to having questions about available health and dental care, there are a lot of other unknowns for people about to enter the prison system, and for their loved ones. Educating yourself beforehand can help ease some of the stress that comes with making that transition. Contact Zoukis Consulting Group for more information about prison life, and for guidance about preparing for prison.