The Marshall Project

Another Hurdle For Former Inmates: Their Teeth

For many recently-released prisoners, severe dental issues are just one more barrier to restarting their lives.

Kara Burns walked out of federal prison in 2013 with little more than a bus ticket and a few hundred dollars she’d managed to save inside. She needed to start job-hunting, but like many formerly incarcerated people, she had a problem that made rebuilding her life even more stressful: Bad teeth.

Burns’ dental problems started long before her incarceration. For years, she used methamphetamine, which is known to cause devastating tooth damage and gum disease. While in prison for two and a half years on a drug charge, she saw a dentist twice, she said. By the time she was released, she was missing multiple teeth and had several other decaying ones covered by sterling silver crowns.

“I have all these barriers—barrier after barrier after barrier—a criminal history, my home address is a halfway house, and I

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