Director, Geriatic and Special Needs Program
Clinical Professor of Preventive and Community Dentistry
Delta Dental of Iowa Geriatric and Special Needs Professor
When Howard Cowen (’76 DDS, ’95 MS) joined the University of Iowa College of Dentistry faculty in 1982, he served as the Director of the Geriatric Mobile Dental Unit, which provided care to elderly patients across the state starting in 1979. Throughout his career, Cowen has focused on making sure that underserved populations receive the highest quality dental care, and has helped to shape the educational offerings to dental students in the field of underserved populations.
Cowen has held the Delta Dental of Iowa Foundation Geriatric and Special Needs Professorship since its creation in 2019. A professorship is an academic honor that recognizes distinguished work in a particular field, and provides a source of funding for the faculty member to use in various ways. Delta Dental of Iowa has long been a partner in the success of dental education in the state, but the creation of this professorship, along with a clinical care space in the Dental Sciences Building, provided resources to elevate the educational process.
The college now offers a graduate certificate program in geriatric and special needs populations which has successfully graduated 17 students, and is one of only five such programs in the United States. For the 2022-2023 academic year, the newly-expanded program will allow all D4 students to spend 15 days in the Geriatric and Special Needs Clinic, plus an additional 5 days with the Geriatric Mobile Dental Unit, providing comprehensive treatment to residents of 10 local nursing facilities. Cowen notes that the program now has its first student receiving Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) funding from the program’s training grant.
Cowen shares that in the next few years, the goal of obtaining Commission on Dental Accreditation (CODA) for geriatric dentistry “looks promising–[which is both] an exciting and deserved project.”
With funding from the Delta Dental of Iowa Foundation Geriatric and Special Needs Professorship, the program has been able to purchase a state-of-the-art wheelchair recliner, and helped with the successful transition of the program from an extramural rotation to a required course of all students.
The ripple effect of the generous support from the Delta Dental of Iowa Foundation, according to Cowen, is that it illustrated for him the “necessity of philanthropy in higher education, and because of that I have made a commitment to establish the Howard J. Cowen Geriatric Scholarship Fund to support students who show an interest in providing care to those vulnerable older adults in their community,” stated Cowen.
In 2022, the UI’s Geriatric and Special Needs Dentistry Graduate Program was honored with the Gies ADEA Award for Achievement by an Academic Dental Institution. In addition, Cowen has been honored as a 2022 Dentaquest Health Equity Hero for his work with special needs patient dental care.
Cowen shares his gratitude for the Delta Dental of Iowa Foundation’s ongoing commitment to improve the oral health of the geriatric and special needs populations of Iowa. “Their support has been, and will continue to be invaluable,” he says. “The training our students receive is second to none and the skills they learn will translate to better care for these populations throughout the State of Iowa and beyond.