Homelessness

No Teeth, No Home, No Dentures: An Oral History with Glenn

(Glenn interviews with HTR on loss of teeth and going without dentures while homeless in deep poverty. He recently got his own apartment for the first time in almost 10 years. He hopes to try to get new dentures soon. He also suffers from HIV and COPD.)

When did you first lose your teeth?

Back in the 1990’s, yeah, because a my other medical conditions n stuff, HIV. It was rough. Ya can’t eat, really.

How long did it take to lose all your teeth?

Bout a year.

And what was that year like?

It was rough. Ya couldn’t eat, so you’re losin weight, cuz ya can’t eat, so … (trails off)

How would they fall out? I mean, what was that experience like, physically, when it was happening?

It was sometimes painful – you know – because a my other illnesses – you know – n takin the wrong drugs, really, my medication for that. You know.

And do you remember any of your teeth falling out specifically? Like, what would you be doing when it happened?

Oh, like, sometimes just eatin somethin would make teeth pop out … Just eatin somethin.

What did it feel like the first times you – you know – spit your teeth outta your mouth?

It was … It was shameful.

How so?

Um, because everybody saw me with my smile n – you know – then I don’t have no fuckin teeth. So, it’s painful. It was painful. It was painful and shameful. It was kinda scary, too, the first times.

When did you first get dentures?

It was, like, 93.

How long did you have dentures after 1993?

Until I became homeless … when my husband died in 2012.

How long after your husband died did you become homeless?

Couple days.

Why was that?

I had nowhere da go.

And how long after you became homeless did you lose your dentures?

Probly about four years into bein homeless.

And you were homeless for, like, over eight years?

Yeah.

Where were you when you lost your dentures?

In Brattleboro.

How’d you lose them?

Somebody stole my backpack.

And your dentures were in your backpack?

Yep.

Do you know who took your backpack, or why?

No.

Where in town were you?

Down at da transit center, the parkin garage.

(Glenn was living on a floor of the parking garage during those years.)

Was it daytime or nighttime when your backpack was stolen?

Nighttime.

So, were you sleeping when it happened?

Yep.

What else was in your backpack of value?

Well, my mother’s ashes.

That must’ve been hard, losing her ashes …

Yeah, yep.

What was it like when you realized your backpack had been stolen?

Oh, I was pissed, yeah … (pause)

How long ago did your mom die?

2015.

Have you ever had dentures again since your backpack was stolen?

No.

How come?

I dunno.

Is this a common problem within the homeless community?

Sometimes, yeah, people lose em.

Are they hard to get back? I mean, are dentures expensive?

Yeah, they’re expensive.

Are they covered by health insurance?

Um, not really.

What do you mean by “not really?”

Well, ya can’t get dentures on Medicaid or Medicare. Ya gotta go through some kinda funding through some organization, so … You know.

Have you tried that yet?

I’m thinkin about it.

Is it hard not havin dentures while bein homeless?

Yeah. Like I said: Ya can’t eat.

What things would you like ta eat that you can’t?

Oh, I like corn on the cob. I have ta tear apart steak ta eat it, so …

How much would it cost you to get your dentures back?

Maybe a thousand.

Has Groundworks or anyone tried a help you get new dentures?

Well, I haven’t told them yet. That’s why I said I’m goin be workin on it, goin through Groundworks. They should know somethin, so …

How does this problem impact other homeless people in general, from what you’ve observed, not havin teeth or dentures?

Well, it lowers your self-esteem. You don’t wanna smile anymore.

What’s that like?

Well, it’s hard, but you know me: I just grin n bear it. You know. Hey, if ya don’t like me for who I am, well, fine.

Why are dentures not covered by Medicaid or Medicare?

I dunno.

Do you feel it should be?

Yeah. I mean, hey, it’s a medical procedure. It’s a medical problem. Ya have ta have teeth at least ta eat good food … Havin teeth makes people healthier. That’s all I can say.

What other health risks come with having no teeth and no dentures?

Choke more easily.

Is there anything you’d like to add on this topic?

That’d be a lifesaver, havin dentures, for me.

Do you know how to begin that process?

I’m goin be talkin a Groundworks.

And do you know what they might do? Like, have other people told you?

No, I dunno.

Have you known other people who have gotten dentures through the help of Groundworks?

No, I haven’t.

You mentioned you think there are organizations that help with this specific problem …

Sometimes, they do.

What kinds of organizations?

Well, I was in Rutland when I lost my teeth. So, it was up in Rutland. It was called the Rainbow … (trails off) It was through the hospital there, can’t remember the whole name. That’s how I got my first dentures.

And have you heard of other organizations like that since, or maybe the same one?

Yeah, but I can’t remember em.

And have you ever heard an explanation from anyone else as to why it’s not covered by Medicare or Medicaid?

No, not really.

(Post Script: The Vermont-based Office of the Healthcare Advocate in Vermont also helps people with limited resources look for help finding affordable healthcare options. Their helpline is 1-800-917-7787. Further information can be found here.)