Lifestyle & Belief

Inmates sue Westchester County for access to dental floss


A dentist dons sterile gloves at a community health center on March 27, 2012 in Aurora, Colorado.


John Moore

Is denying prisoners dental floss a civil rights violation? Eleven inmates in Westchester County prison in Valhalla, NY, are arguing that it is. The group is suing Westchester County for not allowing inmates to use dental floss while being aware that not flossing increases the chances of tooth and gum decay, the Journal News/ reported.

The prisoners claim they have had cavities, tooth pain and bleeding gums in spite of brushing three times a day, the Associated Press reported. The inmates are seeking access to dental floss and $500 million for their suffering.

“We feel that the Westchester County Department of Corrections is depriving inmates of the use of dental floss, which is causing us cavities,” lead plaintiff Santiago Gomez, 26, told the Journal News/ in a telephone interview. “They recognize the importance of it, that you have to floss, in the regulation manual. They clearly state if you don’t floss you’re going to get cavities.”

Dental floss is banned from the prison because it “potentially can be used as a weapon," Westchester’s Deputy Correction Commissioner Justin Pruyne told the AP.

According to the National Commission on Correctional Health Care, inmates can attack other prisoners with dental floss and some have attempted to saw through jail bars with it, the Journal News/ reported.

Pruyne told the AP that Westchester prison system staff are investigating "whether there are products out there which would be appropriate in a custodial situation ... maybe some sort of floss that breaks easily."

Gomez claims that other prisons allow dental floss, but R. Scott Chavez, vice president of the National Commission on Correctional Health Care, told the Journal News/, “I’ve never really seen dental floss being given to inmates.” He added: “It’s security trumps medical in many cases. This is one of those cases. Sometimes what dentists will tell inmates is to use thread from their clothing, to be used as a quasi-dental floss, which works sufficiently well.”

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