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'I show kids they can make it out'

Chicago dentist recognized for providing dental care to underserved kids

March 27, 2018

By Michelle Manchir

Photo of Dr. Bowden
Sharing his talent: Dr. Ogbonna Bowden was featured on the Chicago morning show Windy City Live for his efforts in providing dental care to underserved children in disadvantaged communities within Chicago.
Growing up in Chicago's underserved South Side, Dr. Ogbonna Bowden remembers watching many of his classmates talk with their hands covering their mouths to hide stained teeth or put their heads down on their desks during class while in pain from toothaches.

Those experiences, said Dr. Bowden, led him to contemplate at a young age that "everybody deserves to have a dentist."

Thanks to "a lot of love and support" from his parents, who raised him and his eight siblings in a three-bedroom apartment, Dr. Bowden said he hung on to his goal to go to dental school. The first dentist in his family, he graduated from the University of Michigan, worked at federally qualified health center and five years ago fulfilled his childhood mission to open a dental office in an underserved area in Chicago.

"It's close to my heart," Dr. Bowden. "Anything that's preventable should be prevented."

These days, Dr. Bowden operates offices in three South Side communities that he called "dental deserts." And to reach those beyond the patients who visit his office seeking care, he and his staff oversee a mobile clinic that frequents day care centers to provide preventive treatments such as cleanings and fluoride treatments to children, and also to help educate kids and parents about oral hygiene.

"We need to be able to get to the children early on — to talk to the parents early on about oral health," he said.

Dr. Bowden's benevolent efforts earned him in February a seven-minute feature on a Chicago morning show "Windy City Live," which he said drew an "overwhelming, strong positive reaction" from patients who he said didn't know about his volunteer efforts.

For many of the children he sees, it's their first opportunity to see a dentist.

Many parents can't afford to take time off work and get the children to a dentist, said Latasha Conway, a daycare worker at A Child's Place Academy in Chicago's Woodlawn neighborhood.

"When (Dr. Bowden) comes, he's doing us a great service," Ms. Conway said in the Windy City Live clip. "The children get quality dental care."

Often, his dental office becomes the children's dental home, he said.

Dr. Bowden, a Chicago Dental Society member, knows there's a lot more ground to cover to help get more underserved kids in Chicago dental care. Luckily, he's about to get some assistance. One of his younger brothers is set to graduate in May from Marquette University School of Dentistry, while a second brother, who is also a dentist, is considering joining his practice after finishing four years at a federally qualified health center.

Dr. Bowden said youth in the communities he serves see him as someone they can trust since he grew up in the neighborhood going to public schools and sharing many of their experiences.

"They know I've been in their shoes," he said. "I can relate to the families because I grew up in that environment. I had functional parents, so it was easier to make it out. I try to mentor the kids, install self-esteem. I show kids they can make it out."