Tuesday, May 11, 2021
May 11, 2021

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1979 crash, medical complications take toll on woman’s teeth

By , Columbian Health Reporter
5 Photos
A panoramic X-ray shows the extent of Debra Buckley's dental needs.
A panoramic X-ray shows the extent of Debra Buckley's dental needs. (ClearChoice Dental Implant Center) Photo Gallery

Debra Buckley never imagined she would still be dealing with the repercussions of a 1979 car wreck.

Buckley, then 18, was driving a car struck by a drunken driver. The force of the impact caused her face to smash into the steering wheel, ripping her lower lip and cracking all of her teeth. She needed 60 stitches on the inside and outside of her mouth, lip and chin to repair the damage.

Despite the impact, Buckley said, her beautiful smile remained intact. But health issues 25 years later changed that.

In 2004, Buckley had two heart attacks. Buckley was placed on medications after the heart attacks, including a blood thinner.

One of the drugs, however, caused gastrointestinal bleeding that required Buckley to undergo intravenous iron treatments. The treatment was harsh but, even worse, it softened her tooth enamel, the hard outer covering of teeth.

You Can Help

Donations for Debra Buckley’s $48,000 dental work can be made to:

• a GoFundMe page: https://www.gofundme.com/xa6kg8

• a Donation Account by Debra Buckley — No. 3026210889 — at Chase bank.

Now weakened, Buckley’s teeth, which had only small cracks, began breaking off at the gumline. Just brushing her teeth could cause pieces to fall out, Buckley said.

As a result, Buckley, 53, has been in and out of dental offices, urgent care clinics and emergency departments for numerous dental infections. Buckley has heart disease, making the risk of infections even greater.

“I’m so scared one of these infections is going to get to my heart,” Buckley said. “I’m worried about a heart attack or infection spreading to my brain.”

Buckley’s cardiology provider, nurse practitioner Kathy Stefan, has expressed concern about Buckley’s gum disease.

“She is in desperate need of dental work,” Stefan wrote in a letter advocating for Buckley’s dental care. “There is a strong association between poor dental hygiene and cardiovascular disease.”

People who have chronic gum disease are at higher risk for a heart attack, according to the Academy of General Dentistry. Some research suggests that gum disease may contribute to heart disease because bacteria from infected gums can enter the bloodstream, attach to blood vessels and increase clot formation. Other research suggests inflammation caused by gum disease can trigger clot formations.

Clots decrease blood flow to the heart, causing blood pressure to rise and increasing the risk of a heart attack.

After Buckley’s heart attacks and resulting complications, she had to leave her career as an esthetician. Buckley receives federal Supplemental Security Income benefits for those who are disabled, and is eligible for the state’s Medicaid program, Washington Apple Health.

While she qualifies for the state’s adult dental program, Buckley hasn’t had any luck getting her dental work covered. She’s had consultations with dentists and surgeries scheduled, only to have her appointments canceled days before.

“I have seen so many dentists,” she said.

Buckley needs extractions of her remaining teeth — some have only roots remaining — dental implants and dentures, as well as other work. She’s been told the dental work is considered cosmetic, rather than medically necessary, and her insurance won’t cover it. She’s also had dentists turn her away because of her heart condition. Buckley will need to be placed under anesthesia and her heart monitored during the procedure, she said.

“It can be intimidating to take on heart patients,” Buckley said.

This summer, Buckley had a consultation with a Portland dental provider, ClearChoice Dental Implant Center, that agreed to perform all of the work. The cost, however, is prohibitive for Buckley, since it’ll all be out of pocket.

She needs $28,000 to get the first phase of the dental work done or $48,000 for the full treatment. Buckley’s son started a GoFundMe page, www.gofundme.com/xa6kg8, to help his mother raise the money. She also has a donation account — Donation Account by Debra Buckley, No. 3026210889 — set up at Chase bank.

“I’m trying to raise the money to get part of the dentures, so I can get back to work and pay for the rest,” Buckley said.

For the past several years, Buckley has lived with constant oral pain. She has to stick to soups and other soft foods because hard food hurts to chew. She is also stressed because she can’t work and fears an oral infection will ultimately kill her.

“My heart doctor told me I could die from one of these infections if I don’t get dental help,” she said. “I don’t want to die.”