He had a feeling it was an abscess. It felt exactly like the time before. The constant sharp pain that got worse when he laid down or chewed his food. He also knew if left untreated, an abscessed tooth could turn into a serious, life-threatening condition.
But Michael Pedroncelli could not find a dentist to help him. Due to serious injuries from a car accident last year, Michael has been unable to work and had to go on Medicaid insurance. After he learned that his dentist didn’t accept Medicaid, the office called other area dentists to see if they could help Michael, who also started searching.
“When I called around, I was up front with them,” explained Michael, who lives in Boonville, NY, about an hour’s drive north of Utica. “I’m a big guy, and I was turned down a lot because of that.”
He called several dentists and dental clinics in Utica, Rome, and Watertown. No one could help him.
“I then worked my way to Syracuse, and then Albany,” said Michael, who weighs 750 lbs. “Most people were pretty short with me. Once I told them my weight, they said they couldn’t accommodate me. I know I’m not the only heavy person in New York. Why is this so difficult?”
After dozens of rejections over a period of four months, he then began an internet search for Rochester-area dentists. He saw Eastman Dental’s Specialty Care clinic that included a bariatric chair. He called and was able to secure an appointment.
But, he said, Medicaid didn’t want to authorize transportation from Boonville to Rochester, a three-hour trip one way. “They said, ‘why don’t you just go to Watertown?’” Michael recalled, even though the entire process of Michael trying to find dentists in Watertown and four other closer cities was all explained in the documentation Medicaid received. But it still took another two and a half weeks and Michael’s social worker and doctors calling Medicaid to advocate for his trip to Eastman Dental.
“It’s frustrating because I can speak and advocate for myself,” said Michael, age 40, who wanted to share his experience to help increase awareness about these access challenges. “But so many people are unable to do that for themselves, and it makes me sad.”
After four painful months of searching for a dentist and a three-hour drive, Michael arrived at Eastman Dental. Less than an hour later, his abscessed tooth was extracted by Dr. Nadia Stephens, assistant director of Specialty Care, and he was out of pain. What he didn’t realize was that the Specialty Care clinic had only been open a few weeks.
The new, first-of-its-kind dental clinic in the region is now available for people with medically complex conditions who have faced barriers to dental care for years. For adults experiencing cancer, diabetes, multiple sclerosis, heart conditions, obesity, IDD, pregnancy, HIV, and many other complex conditions, access to dental care can be very challenging because there are not enough qualified dentists who have the proper training or the facilities that can accommodate them.
“I would like to thank Michael for being persistent in his quest for accessible dental treatment and reaching out to us,” said Dr. Stephens. “His willingness to share his experience will help others who face similar challenges accessing dental care. It’s so rewarding for us at Eastman to be able to help.”
“It’s been a fantastic experience from the moment I called Eastman Dental,” said Michael, who sat comfortably in the bariatric chair while Dr. Stephens provided Novocain and then extracted the abscessed tooth. “Everybody’s been so nice, I could almost cry that I have finally got it fixed,” said Michael. “I’m so happy.”