Harold Fowler, a 62-year-old Denver resident with cerebral palsy, sits calmly as gauze gets packed around his teeth and the high-pitched whir of a drill fills the room.
Outside the state-of-the-art clinic in the CU School of Dental Medicine Building sits Harold's mother, Reather Fowler. Reather and her husband have been taking Harold to regular checkups at the dental school's Special Care Clinic for 28 years, making him one of the clinic's longest-standing patients.
On this March afternoon, Harold is getting a filling replaced. This is the first time he's been treated by dental students Christy Kopasz and Bob Johnson, but that's normal. Third-year dental students and second-year international dental students are rotated through the Special Care Clinic to give them hands-on experience treating patients with developmental and physical disabilities.
"The students are always really pleasant," Reather says. "They take good care of Harold."
The soon-to-be dentists don't mind being taken out of their comfort zone to treat patients like Harold.
"I love it," Kopasz said after treating Harold. "We had a class on (caring for patients with special needs). It prepares us so we can treat special needs patients when we go into our private practices."
Besides rounding out students' skills, the Special Care Clinic has filled an important health care gap in Colorado since 1979. When it was difficult to find a private-practice dentist who would take Harold as a patient in the mid-80s, one of his physicians told Reather about the Special Care Clinic at CU.