Taxpayers shell out for "Meth Mouth" dental bills - WMC Action News 5 - Memphis, Tennessee

Taxpayers shell out for "Meth Mouth" dental bills

Tennessee taxpayers will shell out tens of millions of dollars this year to fix drug-users' teeth thanks, in part, to a budget-busting condition called "Meth Mouth."

It's a disease hitting several Mid-South county lockup hard.

More and more inmates are showing up at Mid-South jails with rotten teeth and ruined gums because of their meth use.

And when those inmates need a dentist, you foot the bill.

Right now the Tennessee Department of Corrections spends nearly 31-million dollars a year on inmate dental care.

A growing portion of that goes to treat cases of meth mouth.

"Literally, the prisoner comes in and the teeth are falling out of their mouth," said Shelby County Department of Corrections Director George Little.

Meth rots teeth and destroys gums, they're problems that require time and expertise to fix.

"You could be talking about thousands of dollars depending on the type of care that they demand," said University of Tennessee meth expert Dr. Nancy Williams.

Thousands of dollars to treat each new case of meth mouth.

Dr. Dan Roberts extracts dozens of teeth every week from inmates in 12 rural Tennessee counties.

Experts call it an epidemic.

"It's already here," Williams said, "and it's probably going to go on at this rate. The epidemic is probably going to go on for some time."

Leaving local jailers scrambling, and taking a hard look at their budgets.

"Unfortunately, when someone's liberty is taken away, we as taxpayers are responsible for meeting, at least at the minimal level, their needs," said Director Little.

Our Target Five Investigation found Fayette County shells out more than $4000 yearly to out-source inmate dental care.

Tipton County hired a dentist and dental assistant to work part time at a cost of more than $12,000 this year alone. That's nearly double the year before.

Shelby County, with the state's largest inmate population, has a two million dollar a year medical care contract that also covers inmate dental care.

More than 5800 dental visits last year, and ,more than 3400 through September of this year.

"Our hope is that these addicts are getting some kind of treatment that they can return to a normal life in our society," Williams said.

And OFF taxpayer roles.

One Jefferson County inmate who asked we not use his name, an admitted meth user, doesn't see that happening.

"Very rarely have I seen anyone quit doing drugs because they come to jail."

Which means some will keep coming back to jail, and back to the dentist chair for treatment covered by taxpayers.

The jailers we spoke to say they are working with law enforcement and community groups to keep costs down.

Focusing efforts on education and prevention to keep the meth epidemic from spreading any further in Mid-South lockups.

Powered by Frankly