Dental floss lawsuit: More Palm Beach County inmates demand dental floss, sue Sheriff Ric Bradshaw

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. -- October is National Dental Hygiene Month — and maybe that's why some Palm Beach County Jail inmates are suing the sheriff for not providing dental floss.

Court records show four inmates have now filed civil lawsuits against Sheriff Ric Bradshaw since Oct. 1, demanding dental floss in the jail commissary and money damages for their dental "pain and suffering."

But Bradshaw isn't budging.

"I don't care if they file 400 suits, they're not getting it," the sheriff said. "You're not the mayor. This isn't the Ritz-Carlton."

Inmates don't get dental floss, Bradshaw said, because it's made of a strong fiber and can be fashioned into a weapon or even a rope.

"We're not going to give them something that could easily be turned into something else," Bradshaw said.

Court records show 23-year-old Joel Flores, jailed on a robbery charge, filed the first suit on Oct. 1. He says the absence of dental floss has caused him "oral abscesses, pain, discomfort, tooth decay."

In jail, Flores writes, dental floss is "impossible to obtain and use as directed by the American Dental Association."

Two weeks after Flores filed his suit, three of his fellow inmates followed his lead and filed three additional suits on Monday.

Jail records show the four inmates who filed the suits have been arrested 73 times among them.

Deputies picked up 44-year-old Julius Rocker for allegedly walking into a busy West Palm Beach market in August 2009 and opening fire, shooting one man at least three times and wounding a woman standing next to him.

Charged with attempted murder, Rocker has been in jail since his arrest — and says he hasn't seen a strand of dental floss.

"[I] have been continuously denied adequate dental care and treatment," Rocker wrote in his Oct. 15. suit.

He then made a list of things he wants: dental floss, standard size toothbrush, tartar control, plaque and gum disease fighting toothpaste and mouthwash products.

"I want monetary compensation for the development of poor dental health," Rocker added.

Juan Perez, a 44-year-old Lantana man arrested for selling cocaine, also filed a suit. He cited "cavities, painful abscesses under my gums and loose teeth ready to fall out due to extreme plaque."

"I want the court to give me injunctive relief for my dental needs," Perez wrote.

Paul Lentvorski, jailed for assault with a deadly weapon, filed next.

Because his teeth are "spaced close together," Lentvorski wrote, a "lack of flossing" has resulted in "painful abscesses under my gums between my teeth, severe cavities, and loss of teeth."

"I want dental floss made available," wrote Lentvorski, who has been arrested 26 times in all. "I want the medical dept. investigated."

The prisoners aren't the only ones concerned about their teeth. In New York state, 11 inmates recently filed a $500 million lawsuit against the Westchester County Jail, demanding dental floss.

Professionals in correctional health care say it's unlikely any of the inmates will get anything.

"It seems people are talking and thinking this is an area where we could get litigation," said R. Scott Chavez, vice president of National Commission on Correctional Health Care, a Chicago agency that sets the standards of inmate care. "Dental floss is not a high priority need."

No law requires jails to provide dental floss to inmates, Chavez said.

The sheriff has some advice for inmates worried about their dental hygiene:

"Don't go to jail."

Staff researcher Barbara Hijek contributed to this report


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