Breaking the Cycle of Poverty: UnityPoint Dental Health Center

March 10, 2020 | United Way Team

Learn more about our UWECI funded partner UnityPoint Health – St. Luke’s Dental Health Center and how their services are crucial for our community.

For more than 100 years, United Way of East Central Iowa (UWECI) has been working alongside our funded partners to break the cycle of poverty. Our funded partners work tirelessly to provide education, financial stability, and health to those in our community who need it most, with the focus of making East Central Iowa a place people want to work and play in.

We rounded out 2019 highlighting The Arc of East Central Iowa and their work in assisting families whose members experience disabilities. Our first highlight of 2020 will be the UnityPoint Health – St. Luke’s Dental Center, which strives to provide low cost dental care with an emphasis on prevention and education.

The dental center has been providing comprehensive dental services for those in need of financial assistance since 1976. The center works with infants and children through the age of 18, as well as people with disabilities of any age. Sara Sodawasser, a hygienist and the manager of the center, has worked with countless patients since she started 20 years ago.

“We see about 30 patients every day, and we had about 6,800 patients in 2019,” Sodawasser said. “It’s a busy place.”

While patients can range from children to people with disabilities, they do have one thing in common: dental health is covered by Medicaid. Sodawasser explained that it can be difficult for individuals and families to find providers who will accept Medicaid. This, combined with the lack of pediatric dentists in the area, means many people are not able to find dental care for their children.

“It’s really hard to find providers in our area who accept Medicaid,” Sodawasser added. “We try to be as accommodating as we can for those who have Medicaid in our community.”

Because of their connection to St. Luke’s, the center can provide a variety of services to its patients, including dental screenings, fluoride, dental sealants, and follow up care. Staff can also utilize the hospital’s operating room for patients who may need more dental work. However, the dental center can also travel to patients. Through their outreach program, a dentist and dental hygienist visit residents in their homes and perform dental screenings, educate them on oral hygiene, and can rotate them in the operating room to get work done. Additionally, hygienists visit schools in Linn, Benton, and Jones counties to provide similar care.

“I can’t imagine what our community would be like, and where all these children would go, if we weren’t here,” Sodawasser explained. “I’m very thankful for St. Luke’s and what they do for the community.”

While the need for the dental center in our community is immense, seeing how children benefit from their services is very rewarding. One patient that stands out is a kindergarten girl who had decay on several baby molars. After many attempts to contact the child’s mother, she was brought in almost two years later, applied for and received Medicaid coverage, and removed the hurting and infected tooth. The girl was able to return to school free of pain, and her mother expressed her gratitude because her daughter is happier and healthier. It’s these stories that keep Sodawasser motivated.

“The little smiles and hugs from the children [we see] make this work all worthwhile.”