Wednesday, November 7, 2018

U.S. Army veteran Kenny Williams has a megawatt personality that can light up any room and now, thanks to free dental work provided by the University of Iowa College of Dentistry, he has a beautiful smile to match.

Williams, who served as an infantryman in the jungles of Panama during the U.S. invasion in 1989, received his dental care—including dental cleanings, removal of several cavities, and fillings—free of charge.

In an effort to reach even more veterans, the college recently partnered with a national program called Everyone For Veterans. The non-profit connects combat veterans with dentists and dental clinics that will provide them with free or reduced-cost dental care. The UI provides the first year of dental services to combat veterans at no charge. After that, services are provided at a reduced-rate.

“We find that when veterans seek out dental care in our student clinics it’s almost always a win-win situation,” says Michael Kanellis, associate dean for patient care and a professor of pediatric dentistry. “Veterans, like all of the patients in our clinics, receive excellent care at significant cost-savings, and students get to work with patients who are appreciative and very dependable.”

One of the college’s primary missions is to provide its students with clinical experience that complements classroom learning, and to provide all Iowans with top-rate dental care. The college treats about 500 patients a day, including veterans.

Williams, a church minister from Rock Island, Illinois, says the free dental services he has received through the college have been life-changing.

“The care I have received has been outstanding,” Williams said during a recent visit with fourth-year dental student Madeline Stead. “The care she has provided me has been incredible. I’m so grateful for all that she has done for me.”

Williams has been working with Stead since June 2018 and it’s clear from the way they chat together that they have a strong rapport. They laugh together when Stead hands Williams a pair of colorful protective eyeglasses (“You saved the cool ones for me,” he says), and Williams teases Stead about the time he fell asleep in the dental chair (“If that’s the only complaint you have, I think I can live with that,” she replies).

“It’s been really great working with Kenny and getting to know him and hear more about this time in the Army,” says Stead, who is from Minneapolis, Minnesota. “I enjoy the opportunity to give back to someone who has done so much for our country.”

Across the clinic another combat veteran, Jerry Schindler, a Vietnam War veteran and Purple Heart recipient from Marion, Iowa, received free dental work from fourth-year dentistry student Austin Steil, of Cedar Rapids, Iowa. Schindler, a retired minister, comes to the College of Dentistry several times a year for cleanings and other procedures, which are covered under the Everyone For Veterans program.

“I’m an old soldier,” says Schindler, who served as a medic in Vietnam, when he introduces himself to visitors. “I’ve been in and out of here for dental visits for the past 25 years. Everyone has been so kind to me.”

Schindler joined the Everyone For Veterans program earlier this year when a College of Dentistry employee asked him about his military service and if he had been in combat. Ann Synan, a patient representative at the college, says she and other employees often strike up conversations with vets who visit the dental clinics to see if they qualify for the program. The College of Dentistry also works with the Iowa City Veterans Administration Health Care system for referrals.

“It’s very gratifying to welcome veterans of all ages to our dental clinics because it’s our way of thanking them for their tremendous service to this country,” says Synan. “They are also some of our best patients because they are incredibly punctual and respectful. Students love working with them and there’s often a special relationship that develops between vets and our students.”

Dental faculty members and adjunct faculty members validate students’ work to ensure that it is correct and to teach them proper techniques. Unlike other dental colleges, UI students begin working with patients in their first year.

David Iglehart, an assistant clinical professor and retired dentist from Davenport, Iowa, works with dental students often and says he enjoys sharing his three decades of experience with them. He especially enjoys helping veterans.

“I have a special affection and admiration for our country's veterans because my father, a veteran who passed away earlier this year, served honorably in the Air Force,” says Iglehart. “While it is incumbent upon us to treat all of our dental patients with respect and dignity, I try to thank these men and women for their service to our country. We can’t do that too many times.”