CONTACT: C. LINDON LARSON
2130 Medical Laboratories
Iowa City IA 52242
(319) 335-9569; fax (319) 335-8034
UI mobile dental unit wins national award for geriatric care
IOWA CITY, Iowa - Since 1980, University of Iowa College of Dentistry
faculty members and students have taken their clinical services on the
road, providing care for more than 3,500 residents of Iowa nursing homes.
This year, they were honored with the American Dental Association's Geriatric
Oral Health Care Award.
The Geriatric Mobile Dental Unit (GMU) is both a service program and
an educational resource, treating patients while offering senior dental
students hands-on clinical experience. It currently visits 10 long-term
care facilities within a 40-mile radius of Iowa City, as well as a number
of homebound hospice patients and elderly adults.
"We're very proud that the program has been noted nationally,"
said Howard Cowen, D.D.S., assistant professor of preventive and community
dentistry and director of the college's Special Care Program, adding that
the award shows how well the GMU is accomplishing its goals.
The GMU uses a 25-foot mobile trailer to transport portable operatories,
a radiograph processor, sterilizing equipment, a small prosthetic lab and
storage space. Three dental students, a dental assistant, a dental hygienist,
and a faculty member provide clinical services at nursing homes visited
by the unit.
In Iowa and across the country, about 5 percent of elderly people live
in long-term care facilities, often with limited access to regular dental
care. The GMU provides free screenings to all residents of the facilities
it serves. Consent requests for further examinations and care are sent
to those who are legally or financially responsible for the residents.
"The demand is overwhelming," Cowen said, noting that he receives
at least two inquiries each month from additional nursing homes requesting
service. He added, however, that some elderly patients and their caregivers
may be apprehensive about dental care, perhaps recalling the discomfort
associated with it decades ago.
"I think the most surprising thing is how little stress most patients
feel and how easily they cope with dental treatment," Cowen said.
"I can feel secure telling caregivers how well patients tolerate and
Cowen noted that future generations of older adults will be accustomed
to quality oral health care and will expect more from their dentists. For
students, the GMU -- combined with experience in the college's Special
Care Clinic -- prepares them for the demands of private practice.
The experience shows students that they can successfully treat patients
whose care may be complicated by anything from disabilities to chronic
health problems to dementia. "We are trying to follow up with graduates
to see if they are treating more patients with special needs," Cowen
The program has been well received by the communities it serves, generating
financial support from the United Way of Johnson County, Johnson County
Department of Human Services and other sources. Cowen hopes that additional
resources will fund new equipment and personnel, permitting the program
to expand and better respond to emergency calls. He would also like to
see a statewide referral network of community dentists available to treat
elderly compromised patients.