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Project SEALED sees increase

BY IAN MURPHY | MAY 16, 2014 5:00 AM

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Four times a year, students in the Allamakee School District can step out of their math and English classes and into a dentist’s chair.

A collaborative program allows third-year  UI dental-school students the opportunity to provide discounted dental care to 110 to 140 students in the last week, a number that has increased from the initial visits.

Project SEALED — Service, Engagement and LifeCareer Education in Dentistry — is a partnership between the school systems in Waukon and Postville, Iowa, in Allamakee County and the U of I College of Dentistry.

Dan Caplan, a UI dentistry professor and the organizer of Project SEALED, takes third-year dental school students to the northeastern-most county of Iowa to provide oral screenings and clean the teeth of students whose families otherwise may not be able to afford dental care.

Project SEALED has provided dental care to students at the schools six times. Caplan estimated the dental students have provided care to 500 children this year alone.

The group saw from 70 to 80 students during both the first and second visits.

“There were not any services available because of a lack of dentists in the county,” said Allamakee School Superintendent Dave Herold.

He said many children in the district are eligible for Medicaid, but not many dentists in the county are Medicaid practitioners. 

An income of 133 percent of the poverty line qualifies for Medicaid coverage. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, 11 percent of Allamakee County residents are below the poverty line.

Herold said families whose children needed dental care would have to drive to Iowa City, Cedar Rapids, and sometimes Waterloo.

“That’s an expensive trip for many of those families,” he said.

Caplan said a member of the Allamakee County Board of Health reached out to the UI dental school about the lack of dental care available in the spring of 2012 and asked what the college could do to help.

He said at the time, the Provost’s Office had grant applications available, and the dental school decided to seek funding for a partnership with the county.

“They funded the project; we spent the last two years putting it together,” Caplan said.

The initial grant covered much of the startup costs, including transportation, equipment, and lodging for the two days students are providing health care, but Caplan said the biggest costs are not monetary.

“The costs have come on a lot of time and effort donated on behalf of the project,” he said. “When the students go up there, they aren’t here [at school].”

However, Project SEALED makes up some of the lost education time.

“It’s like a dental school set up in a classroom,” Caplan said.

He noted that it provides valuable skills training for the dental students as the project coincides with students' third year of dentistry school, when they have the pediatric operative rotation.

During that rotation, students are required to work with young patients.

For students such as Chase Wicker, who just returned from the project on Thursday, the experience was eye-opening.

“We see a lot of kids in the pediatric rotation, but it’s a different population up there than in Iowa City,” said Wicker, a third-year dental student at the UI.

Caplan said four different groups of students are sent four times a year — in mid-October, mid-December, late-March, and mid-May.

Overall, Herold said, he is glad the dental school elected to partner.

“We’re lucky to have the University of Iowa,” he said. “This brings services to our families.”


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