How Does Dental Care Fit Into the Healthcare Debate?

How Does Dental Care Fit Into the Healthcare Debate?

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AARON MATÉ: It’s The Real News. I’m Aaron Maté. I’m here with Dr. Javad Aghaloo. He is the founder of the SAGE Initiative,
which is a non-profit serving low income communities with dental care in California and Arizona. Dr. J, hello. JAVAD AGHALOO: Good to be with you, Aaron. AARON MATÉ: Thank you for being here. Tell us about your group, Sage. JAVAD AGHALOO: Sage is a non-profit organization
that, as you said, provides dental care free, no cost to the patient at all, in underprivileged,
underserved areas. My area right now is southeastern California,
kind of on the border of Mexico, but in that community of low income and underserved population
are veterans, believe it or not. Veterans don’t get any dental care from the
VA unless they’re 100% disabled. We’re changing that. I’m providing dental care to the veterans
as well. AARON MATÉ: So, you’re a veteran who’s say
50% disabled or 60% disabled. You don’t get your dental care covered? JAVAD AGHALOO: Right. If you’re up to 90% disabled, as a veteran,
as a war hero, all these things. There’s many different ways to be disabled,
PTSD would be mental. Something physical, an arm, a leg. They don’t get any dental coverage from the
VA unless they’re 100%, and so I’m changing that. I took it upon myself. I’m a veteran myself, US Air Force lieutenant
colonel, and I just couldn’t stand for that anymore. AARON MATÉ: What kinds of problems do people
come in with, especially those who can’t afford to pay for their dental care themselves? JAVAD AGHALOO: Usually these are long range
problems. They come in usually with a toothache, that
would bring them in, or some kind of infection or a loose tooth or a broken tooth. That’s the first thing we address is the problem,
but we obviously find many other things, gum disease, which is a huge problem also other
cavities that aren’t hurting them right now but they will. What we like to focus on is not just the emergency
care but also comprehensive care and preventative care to prevent problems in the future. AARON MATÉ: As a dentist, what’s your take
on the ongoing and very dramatic healthcare debate in the US? It’s interesting. When we talk about healthcare here, we don’t
often hear about dental coverage. It’s not even really part of the mainstream
conversation. This is at a time when Republicans have been
trying to strip even what’s considered essential health benefits from health care plans as
part of their measures that they keep trying. As someone who provides this service of dental
hygiene, dental care, what do you make of the role that this factors or does not factor
into the conversation? JAVAD AGHALOO: I’m glad you bring that up
Aaron, because it factors directly into it, and that’s what we don’t understand a lot
of times. The mouth is obviously part of the rest of
the body. If you have infection and disease in your
mouth, then you have infection and disease in the rest of your body. Things like diabetes go up if you have gum
disease, heart disease. Actually, we talked about it before. The same plaque that’s in your mouth, the
same bacteria is the same plaque that clogs your arteries and causes a heart attack or
a stroke. If the vessel goes to your heart, it’ll cause
a heart attack. If it goes to your brain, it’ll cause a stroke. It’s directly involved, dental and medical. We haven’t realized that yet, so this debate
going on is very, very instrumental in dental care and dental prevention. We need to make sure that’s covered. Right now, Medicaid covers some dental, but
only pretty much emergency stuff. It’s not to the level that we need it. AARON MATÉ: You, I’m sure, treat some Medicaid
recipients? JAVAD AGHALOO: Yes. AARON MATÉ: How’s their coverage? JAVAD AGHALOO: Their coverage is terrible. Like I said, in my area, 85% plus a lot of
times are Medicaid recipients. In California, they call it Medi-Cal, but
it’s Medicaid. They cover emergencies, like we said, if somebody
comes in with a toothache, they’ll cover the emergency, but a lot of times, they only cover
extracting the tooth. They won’t cover a root canal or a crown necessarily,
which is another way to treat a tooth that’s infected. They cover the extraction, which is much less
expensive, quicker, and things like that. They will cover a regular cleaning, but they
won’t cover what’s called a deep cleaning. If you have gum disease, you need what’s called
a deep cleaning. They won’t cover that, so either the patient
doesn’t get it or the patient has to pay for it. That’s a big problem. AARON MATÉ: Right. I suspect that, as is the norm with this ration-based
healthcare system, that not dealing with some of these issues now leads to much bigger problems
down the line that then impact other parts of the healthcare system too. JAVAD AGHALOO: Definitely it impacts, like
I said, diabetes is one of the biggest problems and diseases we have, and there’s a direct
relation between gum disease and diabetes. If you have gum disease, you’re two to three
times more likely to have diabetes. If you have diabetes, two to three times plus
more likely to have gum disease. Just by somebody having diabetes, I give them
antibiotics before dental treatment so they don’t get gum infections. We do extra cleanings on them just because
they have diabetes. AARON MATÉ: Bernie Sanders recently unveiled
his Medicare for all plan. What does he say there about dental care? JAVAD AGHALOO: He does. He’s one of the only politicians I’ve ever
seen to even talk about dental, so I’m so happy about that. In the plan that I’ve seen, it’s not that
specific. He says we’re going to cover dental but I
haven’t seen exactly what’s covered. I haven’t seen if the root canals are covered,
the deep cleanings are covered, or routine fillings are covered or preventative care
things which is what we really need. AARON MATÉ: Your community that you serve
through SAGE is near the Mexico border. JAVAD AGHALOO: Yes. AARON MATÉ: Do you see a lot of undocumented
immigrants? JAVAD AGHALOO: We do. In that area, there’s a lot of undocumented
immigrants, migrant farm workers, things like that. It’s not just them, they have families a lot
of times. They have husbands, wives and they have children,
so what about those people? These are all people that we treat for free,
no questions asked. A lot of people don’t even believe it. A lot of times they think it’s too good to
be true, but that’s what I’m trying to get out there and educate people and let people
know that we’re doing this service. AARON MATÉ: In treating this undocumented
community, what do you learn about the struggles that they face in their lives? JAVAD AGHALOO: It’s amazing. A lot of them are scared. They might have a toothache, their child might
be in pain but they’re scared to come out sometimes and go to a dentist or go to a healthcare
provider because they think they might be deported just by seeing a healthcare professional
or by making themselves known. They’re in a lot of fear, very scared. AARON MATÉ: You started off in private practice. JAVAD AGHALOO: Yes. AARON MATÉ: What led you to make the jump
to expand into serving a population that often gets ignored? JAVAD AGHALOO: Yes, my background is military. I’m a lieutenant colonel in the Air Force
and I remain in the Air Force Reserves. I developed my altruism and my giving back
to the community and my public service in the United States Air Force. I still own two private practices. In the area that I chose to have my private
practices, we have this underserved medically and dentally depressed population. I just couldn’t take it. These people weren’t getting covered. I decided to start the non-profit organization
treating these people without having any coverage and not having to pay anything. AARON MATÉ: Because medical school and because
expenses are just what they are, do you think that the US healthcare system sets up this
binary for doctors where they have to choose between the mission of their profession and
their own personal financial goals and well-being? JAVAD AGHALOO: That’s a great point because
I have a lot of doctors that work with me and they might be able to volunteer one day,
but they can’t volunteer on a consistent basis. They can’t do this community service all the
time because they still have to feed their families. I run into the same thing myself but I am
100% committed. I’ve put everything I have into this non-profit
organization. To me, success isn’t how much money you make,
it’s how many people you help. I still have my private offices that are able
to fund what I’m doing, but my passion is the public service, the non-profit. A lot of dentists, a lot of healthcare professionals
in general, they care about people but they have to feed their families. I think a binary system is created. AARON MATÉ: How many people do you serve
through SAGE? JAVAD AGHALOO: We’ve already seen over 3,000
patients. Right now, I’m seeing these patients after
hours and on the weekends of my private offices because SAGE does not have its own building
yet. I own two private offices and I’m seeing these
patients out of those offices on the weekends, after hours, things like that because funding
is scarce. It’s difficult to get grants. It’s difficult to fundraise, so I’ve been
funding this. I’m very lucky to have many volunteers and
many staff that helps out, but in general I’ve been funding it myself. AARON MATÉ: People who couldn’t afford to
come in during normal business hours, you open up your practice to them on weekends,
on your downtime basically? JAVAD AGHALOO: Yes. On Sundays we’re seeing patients. Yes, all the time. AARON MATÉ: As you look at the healthcare
debate right now, we’re talking today as the Republican, their latest attempt to repeal
Obamacare has collapsed, but say they had been successful. Their effort was aimed at targeting billions
of dollars from Medicaid. How would that have impacted your patients? JAVAD AGHALOO: That would have directly impacted
my patients in the dental field because a lot of people, a lot of professionals, a lot
of politicians think that dental care is just elective and it’s not. As we’re saying, it relates to the rest of
the body and it’s a preventative thing and it’s necessary, so I think one of the things
first to be cut would be the dental. If their cutting all this Medicaid funding
and 90% of my patients are Medicaid, dental already is very scarcely covered. I think that it would be cut back a lot and
have very severe consequences to my patients. AARON MATÉ: Is there a lobby that can effectively
organize and represent the needs of your patients, who can say, “No. These people need this protection. They need this care. They need this service. We should give it to them.” Right now, of course, the insurance industry
has a lobby, medical associations have lobbies, but patients don’t really have that same kind
of representation. JAVAD AGHALOO: They definitely should. I don’t think patients have accurate and appropriate
representation because we do have insurance companies which they end up taking a lot of
extra money that they don’t need to, and then they have the American Dental Association,
which is a lobby pretty much for the professionals, for the dentists. If we have a lot of dentists out there that
they do care about the patients, but like we said, they have to feed their families,
so it’s about being able to make money and make a profit in their business as well. I don’t think the patients are as well represented
as they should be. AARON MATÉ: Do you have young dentists in
training coming through your office trying to learn the practice through volunteering? JAVAD AGHALOO: I’m glad you brought that up
because right now, again, we’re in southern California, and we just started a program
with UCLA, University of California Los Angeles, a very big and historic university. Their dental school is going to start sending
senior dental students to our non-profit organization to get this real world experience of the patients
that are low income, in need, veterans, things like that and to show that it’s very important
to give back to the community. We’re really happy about that. We’re actually starting very soon. AARON MATÉ: Finally, Dr. J, where do you
want to see the conversation that we talked about around dental care go as this country
continues to evolve on the issue of healthcare? Bernie Sanders has gotten unprecedented support
for his Medicare for all bill, something we’ve never seen before from Democrats. Many lining up now to support him. If you could inject your own perspective into
the conversation around dental care, where would you want it to go? How should we see it differently than we have
so far? JAVAD AGHALOO: We should see it that medical
and dental are connected. They’re pretty much one and the same. In medicine, we have different specialties
for bones, for arms, for legs, for heart. Dental should really just be another specialty
of medical, in my opinion, because it really is. I’m glad that Bernie Sanders has brought it
up and started the conversation in the Senate and in Congress, but we need to go further. We need to not just cover an infection or
a big time emergency, but comprehensive care and preventative care. It’s going to really impact the health of
our children and our citizens. AARON MATÉ: Why do you think it hasn’t gotten
to that level yet? JAVAD AGHALOO: I’m not sure. If you study other models, European models,
Canadian models, they at least take care of their children. I believe that the kids from 0 to 18 are covered
dentally fully. I believe that pregnant mothers, while they’re
pregnant and up to like 12 months after they give birth are covered. However, it doesn’t go the next step of covering
everybody, which I believe it should. That’s a great first step, but one of the
things I see, Aaron, and it’s interesting because it doesn’t just impact somebody’s
health but their self-esteem, their ability to get a job. I work with a lot of homeless rescue missions,
a lot of homeless patients that are getting back on their feet. These people are ready to go. They feel good, but they don’t have the smile. A lot of them have an ugly smile or missing
teeth and they’re just embarrassed to go to a job interview. I just did some work on a patient the other
day and he sent me some flowers and all these things. He was so happy because he got a job. He felt confident in going to an interview
because his smile was better now. Your smile is such a big asset, not just for
your health but for everything. AARON MATÉ: We’ll leave it there. Dr. Javad Aghaloo, dentist and founder of
the SAGE Initiative, thanks very much. JAVAD AGHALOO: Yes. Thank you. AARON MATÉ: Thank you for joining us on The
Real News.

14 thoughts on “How Does Dental Care Fit Into the Healthcare Debate?”

  1. We need thorough and comprehensive dental care covered in a medicare for all health plan public option….and this guy is a hero,

  2. So well spoken and moral he almost seems too good to be true. Very impressive initiative on his part. Great interview.

  3. This is the biggest problem I have whenever healthcare reform is brought back up, dental care is NEVER spoken about when health care is discussed and it's maddening how these politicians cannot correlate how much one's health is directly affected by the health of there mouth!!!!

  4. We need more people, like this man. That actually CARE about people. Bravo. This video needs to be shared as often as possible.

  5. Medicaid only covers extractions in this state. That's why so many low wage earners are toothless by midlife around here. There is a massive social stigma attached to bad or missing teeth and the poor condition of ones teeth can and does keep good, hardworking people from career advancement. Remember when Americans used to make fun of the British for having bad teeth? Well, it's America's turn to have the worst teeth in the developed world, now, and all the horrible health problems that go with that dubious distinction. Shame on the greedy dental industry and insurance corps. for deliberately engineering this preventable crisis. We NEED thousands of people like Dr. Aghaloo to step up and speak out. Thank you, Dr. Aghaloo.

  6. The poor in the UK only get to see qualified but inexperienced young dentists. Creating more problems than patients had in the first place. This from a national health insurance scheme that we all pay into as well as taxes.

  7. i have very bad teeth. when i was 22 yrs old i was in a car crash that cracked every tooth on my right side, both uppers and lowers. (i am 45) i do not have dental care so they r falling out of my face. i was put into hospital for 5 days on antibiotic 3 yrs ago. still the root problem was not fixed. someday I'll be put back into the hospital unless Medicare for All Bernie Sanders plan. BTW I worked in health care for 20 + yrs. try to eat healthy with no teeth. so u eat soft foods that r not good for u. so bad teeth makes bad health come one way or another.

  8. You'll notice there's money for vaccinations etc for little kids because they want them healthy as potential military members, but once you're old and not useful to the war machine, your savings can be spent keeping your mouth healthy so you won't have any money to spend on grandkids education or anything else in the name of peace. Plus having any kind of health worries takes energy away from being fed up with your hideous government. The government obviously prefers you sick with worry and addicted. There's probably plenty of money for routine infant circumcision (I'm not positive circumcision is covered by state health ins., but I wouldn't be at all surprised); a mutilated penis contributes to breaking up relationships, making the kids more susceptible to signing up. If it is, and they need an excuse to save money (like they need an excuse where they can bloody well print what they need), they could stop doing circs. and spend it on dental care like root canals.

  9. We often use Canada or Europe for health care comparisons. More telling is our neighbor Mexico, a country with 15% of U.S. resources. Everybody, including children, gets dental care with a government card. Children are not charity cases like here. Another example. A relative recently had a major heart attack that required weeks of cardiac center hospitalization–the kind of thing that bankrupts Americans. The cost to him was nothing. He has returned to normal life. Why? Because health care is considered a human right in Mexico. So what is our excuse?

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