A dentist at an immigration detention facility told inspectors he doesn't have time for cleanings or fillings — but suggested immigrants floss with string from their socks if they're 'dedicated to dental hygiene'

Getty Images/John MooreAn immigrant receives dental care at the Adelanto Detention Facility on November 15, 2013 in Adelanto, California.
  • A scathing watchdog report accused an immigration detention facility in California of providing substandard medical and dental care.
  • One of the two dentists overseeing the 1,700 detained immigrants said he doesn’t provide cleanings or fillings because he doesn’t have time.
  • The dentist suggested that immigrants who can’t afford floss from the commissary can prevent cavities by flossing with strings from their socks.

A California detention center housing nearly 1,700 immigrants provides such substandard medical care that inspectors called it a “significant threat” to immigrants’ health and well-being, a recently released Homeland Security watchdog report said.

Particularly troubling to the inspectors who in May visited the Adelanto facility, located about 85 miles northeast of Los Angeles, was the lack of dental care immigrants received, according to the inspector general’s report.

Though Immigration and Customs Enforcement standards require facilities to provide checkups and cleanings to immigrants detained longer than six months, the inspectors found that the Adelanto facility fell far short, neglecting procedures like fillings and mostly conducting extractions.

The facility only employs two dentists for the hundreds of immigrants detained there, and records from the last four years showed that no detainees had received teeth cleanings or fillings in that time.

One of the dentists told the inspectors that he only provides “palliative care” to immigrants because he doesn’t have time for procedures like cleanings or fillings.

When inspectors asked him about the necessity of fillings, he brushed off the concern and said patients won’t need them if they commit to brushing and flossing.

“Floss is only available through detainee commissary accounts, but the dentist suggested detainees could use strings from their socks to floss if they were dedicated to dental hygiene,” the inspectors wrote.

Immigrants told the inspectors they had received tooth extractions rather than fillings – and even those procedures have sometimes gone awry. The inspectors interviewed one immigrant who waited eight months to have a tooth extracted, and another had the wrong tooth pulled.

The Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency has already responded to the inspector general’s report, saying it agrees with the findings and will take “corrective actions” and conduct a full inspection of the facility.

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