When the Eastern Iowa Health Center opened their new dental clinic in March of 2017, they knew that they were meeting a previously unmet need in the Cedar Rapids area. What they didn’t know was just how pervasive that need was. Within days of being open, the clinic was fully booked, and staff worked tirelessly to see patients.
The clinic itself isn’t much different from any other you might see in the area. Six operatory rooms line the hallway, each with a dental chair, computer and the necessary equipment to care for teeth. A reception desk and friendly staff greet you upon entering, and a break room takes up a small corner in the back. While the clinic looks very much like any other, the clients they see are unique.
Because of Medicaid reimbursement rates and the high cost of dental care, many low-income patients struggle to find dentists who will see them. This means that in Linn County many of our lowest income neighbors do not have access to critical healthcare.
Dentist Stephanie Cooper explains that while dental care is often seen as cosmetic, it impacts a large range of health issues. This is exacerbated in communities where neighbors don’t have access to regular care. Though she’s only been seeing patients for a few weeks here, she’s already helped countless people with critical issues.
“I had a 12-year-old who was in so much pain; she had to keep sucking on ice. She will need a root canal in order to save her tooth, and it’s an adult tooth.” She explains that she often sees people who need multiple tooth extractions in order to keep their mouths healthy. Patients come in who are unwilling to smile, who are deeply self-conscious about their mouths, and are happy to be able to find solutions that allow them to be healthy and more confident. “We want people to feel that they’re important, that they matter, and we want them to leave with dignity,” she says.
Patients who seek out proper dental care can now be easily seen at the clinic. Carol Scheidt and Caroline Scales were two patients who were eager to get into the dentist’s chair – they were two of the first patients to have appointments when the clinic opened. For Carol, the Eastern Iowa Dental Center offered an affordable option. Carol has MS and Medicare insurance does not cover dental visits, but through the dental clinic she can still get regular checkups affordably. Caroline recently moved to Cedar Rapids and wasn’t sure where she could access dental care with her Medicaid insurance. She was glad to hear that the new clinic would be able to see her.
“I wasn’t sure where I was going to go,” Caroline explains. “Dental care is healthy, and it makes you smile.”