Greeley woman’s life changed after she got dentures to replace broken teeth thanks to Medicaid expansion

A car crash broke most of Kathy Bryne’s teeth in 2000.

She had health insurance, which covered the treatment for her back injury, but didn’t have dental. Getting her teeth fixed was too expensive, so she went without them.

For 13 years, Bryne stopped smiling.

She’d cover her mouth with her hand whenever she could. People asked if she did meth when they did manage to catch a glimpse of her mouth.

“It was like being a person again.

— Kathy Bryne, who used Medicaid to obtain dentures after a car crash in 2000 left her teeth badly damaged

She dreaded going to school functions for her three daughters. Other parents and teachers often looked at her like she’d done something wrong.

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Her husband divorced her. She struggled to find a decent-paying job.

About a year ago, Bryne, 41, of Greeley, got dentures. They changed everything.

When she walked out of the dental office with her new teeth, she called an old friend. They talked on the phone regularly before she got her dentures, but this was different. She could speak so much more clearly now. He could understand her better.

“It was like being a person again,” Bryne said.

Jeremy Johnson, chief dental officer at Sunrise Community Health, said dental issues can cause problems in many facets of people’s lives. And yet oral health care can seem out of reach for many of those with lower incomes, said Christy Dodd, the executive director of Oral Health Colorado.

“Oral health is about more than getting caps and whitening your teeth,” Dodd said.

Many folks who have coverage through Medicaid don’t realize they have dental coverage, Dodd said. In 2013, Colorado’s Medicaid program, Health First Colorado, expanded to include limited dental benefits for adults.

With the expansion, Johnson said, Sunrise has been able to treat more people for oral health concerns in Weld County.

“We have at least doubled the number of patients who have dental coverage who are coming to see us,” Johnson said.

Bryne got dentures at Comfort Dental through Medicaid.

Now she tells people she meets to use the program while they can, she said.

Sometimes Bryne still catches herself hiding her mouth with her hand. It took her a while to get used to how she looked and how she talked with her new teeth. She had to relearn some words. But it was all worth it. She goes out now. She’s more involved with her kids’ school functions. She hopes to sing karaoke in the near future.

“It’s been slow for things to come back to a good place,” Bryne said. “Getting my dentures has been part of that.”

— Kelly Ragan writes features and covers health and nonprofits for The Greeley Tribune. Have a tip? Want to share your story? Call (970) 392-4424, email kragan@greeleytribune.com or connect on Twitter @kelly_raygun.

By the numbers Colorado Health Access Survey oral health

» 71.5 percent of people in Weld County have dental insurance, compared to 67 percent in 2009.

» 65.7 percent of people in Weld have visited a dentist in the last year.

» 25.2 percent of people in Weld put off going to the dentist in 2011 because they could not afford it. In 2017, that number dropped to 18.6 percent.

» 17.3 percent of people in Weld used public insurance such as Medicaid in 2009. In 2017, 39.8 percent of people in Weld used public insurance.

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