Health

Profile: Oral surgeon serves low-income patients in Cedar Rapids clinic

Oral surgeons are rare at federally qualified health centers

Dr. Jeffrey Link describes the procedure, recovery and possible complications to patient Mylissa Rehm  of Cedar Rapids during a consultation for an extraction at the Eastern Iowa Dental Center  in Cedar Rapids on Tuesday, Feb. 6, 2018. Eastern Iowa Health Center is the only federally-qualified health clinic in Iowa with an oral surgeon, and one of the few in the country. In addition to the  two days per month Dr. Link works at the clinic, he also maintains a private practice in Davenport as well as a practice in Nicaragua. (Liz Martin/The Gazette)
Dr. Jeffrey Link describes the procedure, recovery and possible complications to patient Mylissa Rehm of Cedar Rapids during a consultation for an extraction at the Eastern Iowa Dental Center in Cedar Rapids on Tuesday, Feb. 6, 2018. Eastern Iowa Health Center is the only federally-qualified health clinic in Iowa with an oral surgeon, and one of the few in the country. In addition to the two days per month Dr. Link works at the clinic, he also maintains a private practice in Davenport as well as a practice in Nicaragua. (Liz Martin/The Gazette)
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CEDAR RAPIDS — For years, Dr. Jeffrey Link has made service a part of his livelihood.

And with his new position at the Eastern Iowa Dental Center, he’s making that mission local.

Link is the only oral surgeon working at a federally-qualified health center in Iowa and one of a handful working at these centers nationwide, according to officials at the Eastern Iowa Health Center (EIHC).

“An opportunity to have my practice be where I can serve low-income people, it’s always been something I’d like to do,” Link said. “I thought it could be a nice opportunity to do that, especially since I live in the neighborhood.”

The Eastern Iowa Dental Center is the dental clinic at EIHC, a Cedar Rapids-based federally-qualified health center. These facilities were established to be safety net providers for underserved populations, such as those on Medicaid.

With the introduction of Link to the staff on Jan. 9, he brings more specialized care for these populations going to EIHC for their dental care, Lock said.

Link, a Cedar Rapids’ resident with a private practice in Davenport, works every other Tuesday at the dental clinic performing procedures general dentists lack the training in, such as wisdom teeth removals or biopsies.

Joe Lock, executive director of the EIHC, said the dental clinic mainly serves those who struggle to find dental care or who haven’t visited a dentist’s office in some time for whatever reason.

“When you have people who — primarily because of financial constraints — have ignored their oral health for so long, their oral health can decline rapidly,” Lock said.

Lock said oral surgeons are rare at these health centers, mostly due to the cost.

Link is paid for his work, but Lock said he’s essentially donating “a large portion of salary to work with our population.”

Since 2006, Link has been spending several weeks a year in Managua, Nicaragua to provide dental care at a clinic he’s established to offer mostly pro-bono care.

Link said when he heard of the EIHC’s work in his own neighborhood, he wanted to be a part of the effort.

“He reached out to me,” Lock said. “Dr. Link had heard about Eastern Iowa Dental Center and the fact that we are really engaged in serving a population that is in desperate need of oral health care. He said he wanted to come work with us, and we were absolutely thrilled.”

Access to care is a huge problem for people who can’t afford it, Link said. He said he can only make a small difference, but “you do what you can.”

“If we can get them comfortable again and get them functional, that’s a really big thing,” Link said. “For them it’s everything.”

For Mylissa Rehm, a 35-year-old Cedar Rapids woman who stays at home with her four children, Link’s new position will mean she can have a wisdom tooth removal on April 3. It’s a procedure she otherwise would struggle to find a dentist for, since Rehm is a Medicaid recipient.

“The last thing I want to be is a crappy mom because my mouth hurts,” Rehm said.

The EIHC’s dental clinic has seen a growth boom since it opened March 6. The initial goal for the dental center, Lock said, was to serve about 1,700 people within the first twelve months.

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In just the first nine months — between March 6 and Dec. 31 — the clinic treated about 2,560 people.

“Most of those individuals need to come back to us a couple of times, so we’ve performed more than 5,500 encounters,” Lock said.

EIHC recently marked 10 years in existence. For more information on the organization, visit www.easterniowahealthcenter.com.

l Comments: (319) 368-8536; michaela.ramm@thegazette.com

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