116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
A University of Iowa clinical professor in the College of Dentistry has been named a 2022 Health Equity Hero for his work helping seniors receive dental care.
Howard Cowen, professor and director of the Geriatric and Special Needs Dentistry program at UI, is one of 12 individuals who DentaQuest named a Health Equity Hero for 2022. The prize? A $5,000 check to the nonprofit of his choice. Cowen’s donation will support the Howard J. Cowen Geriatric and Special Needs Scholarship Fund through the University of Iowa Alumni Association.
DentaQuest is an oral health care company that works to expand accessibility to health care for all. The DentaQuest Health Equity program, which is in its eighth year this summer, celebrates individuals for their work helping people gain access to medical, oral and behavioral health care.
Cowen educates future dentists about geriatric care, a specialty that centers on health care for the elderly population. As part of his mission, Cowen manages the College of Dentistry’s Geriatric Care Mobile Van that visits area nursing homes to provide dental care. He believes it’s important for the elderly population to receive oral health care because it’s tied to a person’s systemic health.
“If you have poor oral health, if you have to breathe in your mouth, you have an increased risk of cardiovascular disease, you have an increased risk of stroke, you have an increased risk of aspiration pneumonia, and a very high risk of other morbidity associated with poor oral health,” Cowen said.
The mobile van takes portable equipment to nursing home facilities to provide comprehensive dental care to residents, including dentures, restorations and extractions. The van has been running since 1980. The program started off as a charity and special needs clinic at the college. It was combined with a grant to transport portable equipment and send students to the nursing homes.
“We have a hygienist who comes back every six months, and cleans teeth and provides fluoride (treatments) every three months for the patients,” Cowen said. “So we have a comprehensive approach to providing the care to 10 nursing homes that we go to surrounding Iowa City and Cedar Rapids.”
While there’s demand for the van to visit more nursing homes, Cowen said they can only visit 10 nursing homes because it takes about six weeks to provide care to one facility and an additional day of setup.
Cowen said the mobile van helps educate dental students about the importance of accessibility to oral care for underserved populations. Oral care can easily be missed in nursing homes, which are often understaffed and have other priorities for residents besides dental care, according to Cowen.
“This program is meant to take care of the people that we see in the facilities that we go to,” Cowen said. “Much more importantly, it’s providing education for students to understand that they can do this in their communities when they leave the dental school. ”
Aaron Washburn, DentaQuest’s regional vice president for client engagement, said Cowen was nominated by another dentist for the Health Equity Hero program. The program selects winners based on “outside of the box thinking” with groundwork for others to use and mimic.
Washburn has met several health equity heroes.
“It’s so great when you’re able to meet someone who, instead of seeing those barriers and feeling defeated, they instead saw those barriers and came up with new ways that they could get around them and improve their patient outcomes,“ Washburn said.
DentaQuest continues to look for innovative ways to offer health care.
“We’re always looking for ways that we can use new technologies to provide additional information, (and) better education,” Washburn said. “And that will kind of continue to be our focus in markets throughout the country.”