Hagir Malik brought her 2-year-old son, Ahmed, to the Infant Oral Health Program at the Johnson County Health and Human Services Building on Thursday afternoon to check his dental health.
Ahmed sat in Malik’s lap while she answered questions about her son’s dental health. She said he is good at brushing his teeth, and she makes sure he does it twice each day.
Over the past 20 years, the Infant Oral Health Program has seen 3,734 children and 6,065 dental visits, said University of Iowa Clinical Associate Professor Kecia Leary, the outreach director at the Pediatric Dentistry Department. The primary function of the program is to offer free dental screenings, preventative care, and education to Johnson County kids up to age 3.
Every Thursday, dental students and dental and pediatric residents provide their services all day for the program.
After traversing and climbing around the waiting room, Ahmed nervously wiggled around in his spot, covering his eyes with his hands and keeping his hood pulled over his head. Dental student Elise Montesinos made happy faces at Ahmed from across the small room and then sat on the chair next to him to calm him down.
The dentist brushed Ahmed’s teeth and treated them with fluoride. When the checkup was done, the dentist sent him off with a couple stickers and a new toothbrush for a job well done.
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“I heard about the program from my daughter,” Malik said. “I come here every six months.”
Leary said the county offers the service for free for kids of Ahmed’s age because of their high risk of cavities.
She said the program director, Professor Karin Weber-Gasparoni, studied the practices of Brazilizian child clinics and applied what she learned there to the partnership of the College of Dentistry and Johnson County.
“It gives our students an opportunity to see there’s more to life outside of a dental school,” Leary said. “There’s a whole population that we’re able to serve in the community.”
She said 1,411 students have rotated through the program.
UI dentistry graduate fellow Paula Gomez, who participated in the program as a dental student, said the experience students gain through the program pays off later in their careers. Students learn how to do infant oral exams, she said, and learn ways to teach parents about oral and nutritional health.
Many of the patients they see are not familiar with cavities, she said, or the children cannot articulate their discomfort areas that the students and dentists can help them identify.
“[In] my first experience as a dental student, you’re kind of nervous because you see kids you’ve never seen before,” Gomez said. “So it’s a good way to become familiar with how you need to be positioned, what you should look for, and how parents can help you with your exam. As you do it over and over again, you become a little more comfortable with seeing these kids.”