In the Texas prison system, many toothless inmates are often denied the dentures they need to eat and talk. Instead, if dentures are not deemed a “medical necessity” for an inmate, they opt for pureed cafeteria food and are unable to communicate effectively.
Keri Blakinger covers Texas prisons for the Houston Chronicle and says she got a “flood” of mail from people in prison sharing their story about needing dentures. In some cases, they’ve sent her their medical records and she says some of them have had few or no teeth for years.
“They’re only recommended for dentures if they have seven or fewer teeth and a blended diet is not sufficient to maintain healthy nutritional status,” Blakinger says.
Texas hasn’t always had this denture policy. Blakinger says there used to be a vocational program in which inmates made dentures, but it ended in the early 2000s.
By comparison, Ohio still has a vocational denture-making program, Blakinger says. In California, the prison system gives out dentures; it gave out around 5,000 last year. Texas gave out about 60 to 70 dentures last year. In the New York State prison system, where Blakinger was once herself an inmate, she says the system also gives inmates dentures.
“I never saw this issue with toothless inmates when I was there,” Blakinger says.
Blakinger says when inmates don’t have teeth, it not only impacts how they eat, but also the ability to communicate, which can have a secondary impact on their mental health. She says that’s especially a problem when these people leave prison because it makes it even harder to get a job as a toothless felon.
David Ford is one man who has been trying to get dentures for four years. Blakinger interviewed him for a story, which led to him being approved for dentures by his prison’s medical department shortly after.
“If that all goes through, it seems like at least that might be a happy ending for one guy,” Blakinger says.
She says it’s too early to tell whether the system will change its denture policy overall.
Written by Caroline Covington.