Ottumwa, IA

A native Iowan, Ken Jones is a lifelong Hawkeye fan who continues to serve his local community, the University of Iowa, and the dental profession across the state. Jones earned a Doctor of Dental Surgery (DDS) from the UI in 2006. As a practicing dentist, he is the dental director for the River Hills Community Health Center in Ottumwa, and on the Delta Dental Foundation board as a community health center representative.

“Community health centers have a massive health impact in Iowa,” Jones says. “Our dental care improves oral hygiene, provides routine preventive care, and effectively reduces the prevalence of disease with just a couple of visits.”

In 2006, Jones was a fourth-year dental student at the UI and was exploring opportunities for private practice in his hometown of Cedar Rapids. That all changed during his last year of dental school when he took an extramural rotation at the Des Moines Health Center. During this rotation, Jones saw the great need for high-quality dental care, particularly among low-income and underserved people in Iowa.

Fortuitously, a job opened at River Hills just as he was graduating from dental school. Jones was the only dentist at the health center, which served an eight-county geographical area. Over the past 13 years, he oversaw the expansion of the dental clinics to Richland and Centerville. River Hills now has five other dentists and seven dental hygienists on staff at their three clinics, with plans to add a fourth clinic this year in Oskaloosa.

“These service expansions really allowed us to improve access to dental care across our eight counties,” Jones says.

Jones is passionate about providing dental care to underserved populations, and he greatly values the opportunity to do so in a comprehensive health care setting. One challenge has been getting those populations to come in for regular preventive care, which is more effective and less costly, rather than for emergency situations when the patient is already in severe pain.

To address this issue, Jones and the clinics have organized a sealant program in their local schools. They coordinate with the schools to provide dental care to students, place sealants on their teeth, and apply a fluoride varnish.

“We are really planting seeds with the kids—we hope to make them more familiar with dentists and good oral hygiene, and we want also use the opportunity to help educate parents about good oral health and the importance of routine checkups,” he says.

As part of a comprehensive health center, Jones’ dental clinics screen for high blood pressure and make referrals to medical providers when necessary.

“Since a lot of people see a dentist more often than their medical provider, we have a great opportunity to be an entry point for comprehensive care,” Jones says. “Having dental care on site also means that dentists will be able to treat dental pain in the most appropriate manner, which significantly reduces the risk of narcotics being prescribed for pain relief.”

Beyond his practice at River Hills, he also takes one extramural student from the UI College of Dentistry per year as well as dental hygiene and dental assistant students from Indian Hills Community College.

“Extramurals had a great impact on me, and it can be eye-opening for students. They get a broad range of experiences and our extramural experience helps establish the importance of providing care to the underserved,” he says.

Whether serving Iowa dental students, the dental profession as a whole, or the local community, Jones exemplifies the very best of Iowa and gives us all an example of what giving back to our state means.