UI Operative Clinic gives dentists the opportunity to specialize in a specific field

Resident students in the clinic aim to give patients comprehensive oral-health care while specializing in a specific field of dentistry.


Megan Nagorzanski

Dr. Alshimaa Alghamdi performs a cleaning on her patient at the Operative Dentistry Clinic on Wednesday November 20, 2019. (Megan Nagorzanski/The Daily Iowan)

Jacob Shafer, News Reporter

Resident students at the University of Iowa’s Operative Clinic in the College of Dentistry are already dentists — but they are coming back to school to learn a specialty within the field.

The clinic provides comprehensive care, brings a high standard of work, and aims to establish a welcoming setting for all patients — whether those patients are students, staff, or part of the community.

A day in the life as a resident in the Operative Clinic can change every day or even every year, depending on their progress in the program, first-year resident Catherine Carlo said. Carlo said creating a relationship with a patient that she works with every time they visit is very satisfying.

“We are very big on educating the patient so that they can be a part of the decision-making process, so they don’t feel like it’s out of their control,” Carlo said.

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Operative Dentistry Graduate Program Co-Director Sandra Guzmán-Armstrong said the program starts with the specific concern of a patient’s overall health and addresses the various strategies or specialties that residents are taught to use when treating patients.

Students take a comprehensive look at a patient’s oral health but also seek to provide additional wisdom outside their field if needed, Guzmán-Armstrong said. For example, residents may talk to a nutritionist if a patient’s dental treatment can benefit from changes in nutrition, she said.

“If there are issues the patient has, we can give restoration or fix cavities, but we can work in other areas, too,” Guzmán-Armstrong said. “We can refer them to whatever they need. We are like a quarterback if you compared this to football.”

The clinic is consistently welcoming new patients. If patients are faculty at the university, they can receive treatment at one-third or half the price, UI College of Dentistry Patient Relations Specialist Ann Synan said in an email to The Daily Iowan.

In the clinic, the faculty to resident ratio is 1-to-5; residents can work independently but always have a faculty member there when needed, Guzmán-Armstrong said. The faculty sit down with residents every day before patients arrive, and they go through each case and what treatment will be provided, she added.

“One thing I think is important is that we care more about the quality, so we are providing a more detail-oriented care throughout the whole college,” Guzmán-Armstrong said.

Second-year resident Sundes Elfagih said treatment often overlaps with other areas, and resident students learn how to do a little bit of everything. Then, she said, they can help answer questions patients have about multiple fields within dentistry.

Elfagih said she appreciates that the Operative Clinic is not under the pressure of earning a certain amount of revenue like some private practices. When there’s a financial commitment to fulfill, she said, it’s difficult to push the patient care to the front.

“The environment and this certain situation we have the time to learn and give the time to talk to the patient and find out what the patient needs or wants and look to the long term with them,” Elfagih said.