This guest Slog post is by Dr. Douglas P. Walsh, president of the Washington State Dental Association.

As she announced budget cuts forced by the state’s financial crisis, Governor Chris Gregoire said, "I hate my budget. In some places, I don’t even think it’s moral.”

Among other items, she was referring to dental care for the state’s indigent population. As of January 1, the state has eliminated its adult dental Medicaid program—excluding emergency care and care for those with developmental disabilities.

What does this mean to our citizens?

Many will live in pain: It means that low-income people who formerly could go to a dentist to receive care can afford only to go to an emergency room. ERs can treat only an infection and pain by providing antibiotics and pain-killers. The underlying dental problem goes unaddressed. This in turns leaves people to cope with enormous, continual pain. This short video offers a glimpse into the pain Washingtonians experience from dental disease—unable to sleep, eat, concentrate, even hold down jobs.

They can’t get preventive care: If Medicaid-eligible adults don't have the means to go a dentist, they won’t receive the preventive care you and I take for granted. Regular cleanings and check-ups aren’t in their budgets. And parents are less likely to take their kids to a dentist—a major issue, since dental decay is caused by infectious bacteria that can be transmitted from mothers to their young children.

Without the state’s dental Medicaid program, poor people won’t receive fillings; they’ll get extractions. They won’t get dentures; they’ll live without teeth. This of course dramatically reduces quality of life, makes it hard to eat and digest food and hurts one’s odds of finding work.

Perhaps most importantly, unaddressed dental disease can dramatically hurt one’s overall health. Abscessed teeth can spread life-threatening infections to the brain. Evidence also indicates dental disorders are risk factors for diabetes, heart conditions, nutrition, and low birth-weights for newborns.

It could cost the state more money than it saves: The cost of going to an ER is vastly more expensive to the state than going to a dentist under Medicaid. In Washington, we know that the average cost of an emergency room visit for a dental disorder is $532, thanks to a study by the Washington State Hospital Foundation. Compare that with the $25 Medicaid would spend on an exam in a dental office and $60 to clean and restore teeth — a fraction of the actual cost of these services.

The governor is working to restore funding to this program in her 2011-2012 budget, but success is contingent on the legislature agreeing to re-fund this program. We hope Slog readers will let their legislators know these cuts are penny-wise and pound-foolish and they agree with the governor—this budget is immoral.