Every summer, the campers at Bay Cliff Health Camp gather on the grounds in picturesque Big Bay in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, taking turns around the flagpole, exploring the water and nature—and climbing in the dental exam chair.
For three weeks, the kids and students from the University of Michigan School of Dentistry spend time together inside the dental cottage (look for the signs handmade in colorful markers).
Inside is a fully equipped dental office, where exams are given, cleanings are done, cavities are filled and more. The care comes at no cost.
The dental care comes to the campers because it isn’t always easy for the campers to find dental care, either due to geographic limitations or their special needs.
Some campers have orthopedic limitations, some speech. Other campers live with hearing and visual disabilities. The camp mission is to work toward giving them increased independence.
A visit to the dentist might not be a typical camping activity, but the result, in addition to contributing to better overall health for campers, is happiness and satisfaction—mutually beneficial experiences for the kids and the U-M dental students.
After their visits to the dental cottage, campers leave with better oral health care, and the future dentists take away invaluable experience, personally and professionally, says Larry Salzmann, clinical associate professor of orthodontics and pediatric dentistry and clinical director of the Division of Pediatric Dentistry at U-M’s School of Dentistry.
“The University of Michigan is a big part of what we do this summer,” said Tim Bennett, executive and camp director of Bay Cliff Health Camp. “Our kids that come here every summer have very few opportunities for dental care in the Upper Peninsula. So to have the university come up for three weeks with a professor, residents and students…it’s a wonderful partnership.”
The dental program at Bay Cliff is one of nearly 20 Community-Based Dental Education Program sites across Michigan, including Bad Axe, Battle Creek, Detroit, Midland, Muskegon, Port Huron, Saginaw and Traverse City, where the children of migrant farmers receive care.
“One of the strong points of the School of Dentistry is our outreach program,” Salzmann said.
Through the years, hundreds of students have cared for thousands of patients.
It’s added up to 352,250 procedures performed and $46 million in care provided from 2005 to 2017.
U-M’s community outreach program is one of the most comprehensive dental health service learning curricula in the nation.
Through it, fourth-year dental students, dental hygiene undergraduates and graduate residents gain practical dental experience serving communities with limited access to dental services.
The service-centered dentistry leaves an impact on dental students and carries on after graduation for 15 to 24 percent of U-M School of Dentistry graduates, Salzmann said. The national average is 2 percent.
The work is fulfilling for Amanda Robertson, a fourth-year dental student at U-M.
“Anytime I can spend some of my time helping someone else out makes me happy and it makes me feel like I’m helping someone else smile,” she said.