5W Wednesday: Migrant Dental Clinic

Our 5W Wednesday series highlights a variety of health care organizations, professionals and programs that keep our community healthy.

What is the Migrant Dental Clinic?
The University of Michigan School of Dentistry designed the Migrant Worker Dentistry Program nearly 30 years ago to expose select students to the real-world oral health needs of a traditionally underserved population. This program has been expanded into the School of Dentistry Community Outreach Program, which encourages professional development by immersing dental students in a faculty-supervised real-world clinical setting, exposing students to varied patient sensibilities, the effect of socio-economic community issues, and the operational structure of a modern health care organization. The Community Outreach Program now includes all fourth-year dental students and includes seven community partnerships.

Where does the clinic take place?
The Migrant Dental Clinic takes place in Traverse City, Michigan at the Northwest Michigan Health Services Clinic,  the only health organization in Michigan to serve exclusively migrant and seasonal farmworkers and their families. Their mission: “To provide basic medical and dental services to the migrant and seasonal farmworkers of Northwest lower Michigan in a compassionate manner which is intended to be responsive to their specific circumstances.”

When does the clinic take place?
This summer, three groups of dental and dental hygiene students will rotate through the clinic. The first group provided services from June 20 through July 1. The second group is providing service this week, from July 11-15. The third group will complete their rotation next week July 18-22. Read the first group of dental students’ reflections on their time with the Migrant Dental Clinic here.

Who is involved?
Eight dental students and two dental hygiene students will provide basic services including screenings, oral exams, cleanings, oral health care instructions, and, when necessary, extractions, fillings, and X-rays this summer. The students are supervised by a retired Traverse City dentist as well as several School of Dentistry clinical faculty and alumni. Three Traverse City area dentists will volunteer their time and services.

Why does this program exist?
The Migrant Dental Clinic provides professional development opportunities for dental students, while at the same time providing much-needed services to the skilled laborers and their families who help harvest Michigan’s abundant produce and provide vital support to the survival of agriculture, Michigan’s second largest industry.

According to Northwest Michigan Health Services, “With the start of World War II and the consequential labor shortage, thousands of workers from Mexico and Latin America were recruited to the United States to harvest its abundant produce… In 1962 the Migrant Health Act was passed in order to reduce costs incurred in hospital emergency rooms that were becoming increasingly filled with migrant and seasonal workers who had no where else to turn for health care. The Migrant Health Act called for the creation of Migrant Health Centers across the nation to care for the specific primary care needs of the migrant and seasonal farmworker population.” Northwest Michigan Health Services and the Migrant Dental Clinic are able to provide needed care to these traditionally underserved community members and simultaneously prevent excess emergency room visits by migrant workers and their families, who have no alternative venue in which to obtain health care.

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