SALISBURY, Md. — Two hours before sunrise, Dee Matello joined the line outside the Wicomico Civic Center, where hundreds of people in hoodies, heavy coats and wool blankets braced against a bitter wind.
Inside, reclining dental chairs were arrayed in neat rows across the arena’s vast floor. Days later, the venue would host Disney on Ice. On this Friday morning, dentists arriving from five states were getting ready to fix the teeth of the first 1,000 people in line.
Matello was No. 503. The small-business owner who supports President Trump had a cracked molar, no dental insurance and a nagging soreness that had forced her to chew on the right side of her mouth for years.
“It’s always bothering me,” she said. And although her toothache wasn’t why she voted for Trump, it was a constant reminder of one reason she did: the feeling that she had been abandoned, left struggling to meet basic needs in a country full of fantastically rich people.
As the distance between rich and poor grows in the United States, few consequences are so overlooked as the humiliating divide in dental care. High-end cosmetic dentistry is soaring, and better-off Americans spend well over $1 billion each year just to make their teeth a few shades whiter.