Wednesday, March 23, 2022

During the 2022 ADEA Annual Session on March 21, the ADEAGies Foundation presented the University of Iowa with a 2022 William J. Gies Award for Achievement for Academic Dental Institutions. This award recognizes Iowa’s cutting-edge Geriatric and Special Needs Program, led by director Howard Cowen, the Delta Dental of Iowa Foundation Professor in Geriatrics and Special Needs. This award is one of seven for “trailblazers in academic dentistry and oral health.”

Gies Award Presentation

Howard Cowen with the Gies Award
Howard Cowen Receiving a 2022 Gies Award

At the awards ceremony, Howard Cowen accepted the award on behalf of the college. 

"This is a culmination of over 40 years of hard work, persistence, and dedication to the education of students and care of these vulnerable populations," Cowen said.

He traced the success of the program back to Ron Ettinger and Jim Beck's pioneering work in securing a U.S. Health Resources and Services Administration grant to establish the Geriatric Mobile Dental Unit at the University of Iowa, an extramural program that provides comprehensive care in nursing homes for approximately half of the fourth-year dental students at Iowa.

The special care clinic was added in 1985, and a graduate certification in Geriatric and Special Needs dentistry was added in 2012. 

Iowa has also made geriatric and special needs care a priority for its dental students. Over 2,000 students have had the benefit of being training in one or more of these programs. 

Howard Cowen and David Johnsen at the Gies Ceremony
Howard Cowen and David Johnsen at the Gies Award Ceremony

Beginning in the 2020-2021 academic year, a rotation in the Delta Dental of Iowa Foundation Geriatrics and Special Needs Clinic became mandatory and all fourth-year dental students learned about the specific oral health care needs of older and special needs adults. These dental students were mentored by College of Dentistry experts in the field of geriatric and special needs care, and the rotation has been fully integrated into the fourth-year dental student curriculum.

Cowen has led the way in arranging and coordinating this change in policy. But he is quick to recognize how his fellow core faculty members, several of whom were graduates of the program, and the support from dental administrative and department chairs at Iowa are vital to the long-term success and vitality of this innovative and much-needed program.



The award was presented by the ADEAGies Foundation, an affiliate of ADEA. Selected by a national panel, the Gies Awards “honor individuals and organizations that exemplify the highest standards in oral health and dental education, research and leadership” and they are named after William J. Gies, a pioneer in dental education.

Members of ADEA include all 78 U.S. and Canadian dental schools, more than 800 allied and advanced dental education programs, more than 50 corporations and approximately 18,000 individuals. The ADEA mission is to lead institutions and individuals in the dental education community to address contemporary issues influencing education, research and the delivery of oral health care for the overall health and safety of the public, and ADEA publishes the Journal of Dental Education.


A Global Leader in Geriatric and Special Needs Dentistry

Older and special needs adults are a critical underserved population in dentistry, and dental care for this population is closely linked to their overall health outcomes. Iowa’s program is designed to address the needs of this group, and Iowa has become a national and global leader in the field.

Faculty member with an older patient

Dr. Gretchen Gibson, an expert in oral health care for older adults who have special needs, recently spoke about Iowa’s role in meeting the oral health care needs of this population.

Although dental treatment plans for geriatric and special needs patients “often appear straight forward, they can quickly become complex due to the systemic and psychological issues that are involved,” Gibson explained.

The level of skill required is beyond the scope of what can be addressed in a DDS program, she said, and Iowa’s “unique program” fills “a critically important post-graduate education opportunity that is almost absent in dental education.”

Given the strengths of the faculty and this program, Iowa is well suited to spearhead efforts to bring this specialty into the mainstream as a distinct specialization within dentistry more broadly.