Vonore cancer survivor fights insurance company to get dental implants

Local News

A cancer survivor has a new life and a smile like her mother’s. The young woman fought for years to get dental implants because cancer treatment had destroyed her jaw and gums.

Krista Hughey radiates enthusiasm for everything she does despite what she’s gone through. Her life is slowly getting back to normal.

She received a bone marrow transplant 20 years ago. Multiple treatments of chemotherapy and radiation slowly destroyed her jaw and gums.   

“I had had jaw exposure for over nine years, wasn’t able to eat really well. Then I lost my teeth in July 2015. Then it took me two years to get teeth, had to fight for them,” said Krista Hughey.

Crippled by two types of cancer, each step is slow and painful. She’s had both knees replaced, an ankle fused, and extensive elbow surgery. 

Still she’s independent and loves the outdoors, but 2 and a half years ago, her nutritional health was suffering. Unable to wear dentures, Jell-o fruit cups and other soft foods, like soups, chicken broth and packaged cut fish, were her daily diet.

A great percentage of cancer survivors like Krista Hughey are plagued with oral health problems. Chemo and radiation treatments caused decay and dentures wouldn’t fit on her small gums. 

She requested dental implants in 2014, but the answer was no.

“Almost every insurance company denies it, denies, denies it as a cosmetic issue,” said Krista Hughey.

Krista Hughey said her oncologist and dentist fought the denial letters, claiming implant surgery was medically necessary.

“If you lose your breast to cancer and that is cancer treatment, they are paid for to be reconstructed. But I have damage directly caused by my cancer treatment. This is considered a cosmetic issue. The inequality is dumbfounding,” she said.

Her insurance company finally approved dental implants in 2016 and she underwent surgery at UT Medical Center.

“This is my last big thing, my last struggle, my last big struggle from my cancer. So, I’m excited to get it over with to get my teeth,” she said.

“I loved her with or without teeth, but from the standpoint of her overall health, it’s going to make a huge difference. That’s what we’re really looking forward to,” said her husband Eric Hughey.

Despite a swollen and painful jaw, 16 posts were successfully surgically placed to serve as anchors for the implants.

She says they’re holding strong.

Dental implants are replacement tooth roots made of titanium. They bond with natural bone and become a sturdy base for supporting artificial teeth, called crowns. Implants can cost anywhere between $2,000 and $8,000 per tooth without dental insurance. Krista Hughey had 16 implants. 

Her mouth had healed by September 2017 and Krista Hughey’s dentist was experimenting with practice teeth adjusting her bite to make everything fit.

“I’m looking forward to being able to tell people how this can be done. That’s the biggest thing. That’s the reason why I contacted you,” she said.

Over the last 30 or so months, Krista Hughey said her physical, psychological and social well-being has improved dramatically.

“I fought for over 10 years to get my teeth taken care of,” she said. “It’s very important to me that insurance really looks at it differently as part of a health issue instead of being cosmetic because I sure do feel better having my teeth.”

As a young woman, Krista Hughey said she and her mother enjoyed the same smile. Now her new smile is a reason to celebrate. Today, she’s confident and feels whole again.      

In general, dental implants are not covered by insurance, but Krista Hughey’s need for implants was to improve her health, not for cosmetic purposes. Women who have mastectomies due to breast cancer are eligible under insurance plans for breast implants. So, after years of appeals, Krista Hughey’s doctors were able to convince her insurance carrier to approve her implants. She believes her success may benefit other cancer survivors who face a similar situation.

Copyright 2021 Nexstar Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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