CONTACT: C. LINDON LARSON
2130 Medical Laboratories
Iowa City IA 52242
(319) 335-9569; fax (319) 335-8034
Release: March 2, 1999
UI outreach program provides dental care for infants
IOWA CITY, Iowa -- After coming to the University of Iowa College of
Dentistry for a graduate program in pediatric dentistry and public health,
Karin Weber, D.D.S., noticed that few parents were bringing their infants
to the college's clinics for treatment. She responded by starting a project
that has become both a community service and a tool for teaching and research.
"I proposed a program that would care for infants and toddlers
beyond the dental school and into a public health clinic where children
already were being seen," Weber said. The result is a weekly dental
clinic operated by UI staff and students for local families in the federally
funded Women, Infants and Children Supplemental Nutrition Program (WIC).
National pediatric dentistry organizations recommend that children first
see a dentist at about age one in order to prevent potentially serious
tooth decay. Because children from low-income families are at greater risk
for dental disease, early care is particularly important for them. However,
lack of awareness and access to dental treatment keeps many of these children
from getting the care they need, sometimes leading to expensive hospitalization.
Weber had studied dentistry for infants in her native Brazil, where
much of what she learned was adapted from a pioneering program established
at the UI in the 1970s by Arthur Nowak, D.D.S., and Stephen Goepferd, D.D.S.,
both professors of pediatric dentistry. Faculty expertise in the field
was one of the factors that drew her to Iowa.
Her faculty advisor, Michael Kanellis, D.D.S., UI associate professor
of pediatric dentistry, lent strong support to the project, and Weber began
looking for a community site where a dental clinic could be established.
She found the WIC clinic at the Johnson County Department of Public Health,
which provides health screenings, education, referrals and vouchers for
certain foods to pregnant women and young children.
"This is another way that we can assist families and help provide
the best dental care possible," said Nadine Fisher, director of the
Start-up support for the project came from a $5,000 grant awarded to
Kanellis by the Pierre Fauchard Academy, a California nonprofit organization.
The grant funded the purchase of a portable dental chair, supplies and
Since the clinic opened last September, Weber and her colleagues have
seen more than 95 patients. All treatment is provided free of charge.
The clinic offers preventive care and minor restorative treatment for
high-risk children and education for parents. "Helping parents teach
their children good oral health habits early is much easier than trying
to change their habits later," Weber said.
Children classified as medium- or high-risk for tooth decay are scheduled
for return visits every three months. Clinic staff take every step possible
to keep parents and children coming back, and also try to locate a local
dentist for each child to see beginning at age three.
In addition to serving patients, the clinic complements UI dental students'
education. Twelve fourth-year students have rotated through the clinic
since its inception, and Weber hopes that the experience leaves them better
prepared to treat infants and low-income families once they begin their
The unique nature of the clinic also makes it a good site for research
projects on oral health education and care for children and families. One
current project blends research and clinical care, identifying families
with high rates of Streptococcus mutans a bacterium that causes tooth
decay and taking steps to reduce transmission from parents and siblings
to younger children.
The bacteria project involves David Drake, Ph.D., UI associate professor
of endodontics and investigator at the UI Dows Institute for Dental Research.
Weber expresses gratitude to him and other UI faculty members from various
disciplines, crediting them for much of the clinic's success.
Weber already has future developments for the clinic in mind. She and
faculty at the College of Dentistry are developing an education program
for pregnant women to give them an even earlier start toward providing
good dental care for their children.
"I hope that this project will keep growing and that its philosophy
will keep spreading," she said.