The Texas Department of Criminal Justice states that dentures are not medically necessary for inmates unless the inmate is underweight.
Texas prison inmates are routinely denied dentures because TDCJ officials state that chewing is not a medical necessity. TDCJ states that inmates without teeth are offered blended food which is the cafeteria food pureed.
One inmate, states that he dips crackers in his milk to soften them up so he can swallow them and so his gums do not bleed.
In 2016, prison medical providers approved 71 dentures, many of whom are elderly and had a history of drug use or came from impoverished backgrounds with no dental care. Fifteen years ago, prison medical providers approved more than 1,000 complete or partial dentures.
“Generally speaking, someone with no teeth should be offered dentures,” said Dr. Jay Shulman, a Texas A&M adjunct dentistry professor who’s been an expert witness in multiple lawsuits over prison dental issues. “The community standard for dental care has not been applied to prisons.”
More than two dozen inmates have no teeth at all and are unable to get dentures. Some had their teeth removed while in prison with the false promise of dentures in the future. Other times, they came in with dentures that broke.
With a policy change in 2003, there is little the prison medical staff can do.
The denture policies are set by the Correctional Managed Health Care Committee which is made up of nine members from TDCJ, University of Texas Medical Branch, and Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center. The guidelines are revised about every two years. The prison policy mandates the giving out of dentures only when “medically necessary”. TDCJ has contended that chewing is not considered a medical necessity.
The policy recommends that inmates with less than seven teeth be reviewed and must have additional health issues in order to receive dentures.
Inmates who do not receive dentures are recommended a blended diet.
Prisoners without teeth can suffer from no dentures. Lack of teeth can cause headaches, jaw pain, speech problems, and potentially mental health issues. Giving someone a blended diet for 10 or 15 years is inadequate care.
Not all states treat dentures like Texas. New York routinely gives dentures to toothless inmates and Ohio relies on inmate-made dentures. California provided 4,818 complete or partial dentures in 2016 for a prison population 19,000 less than in Texas.
There is no plan for a change of policy within the Texas prison system in the foreseeable future.