When the Dentist Office Comes to You

Mobile clinics are more than a vehicle for students to hone their skills.

WDET/Laura Herberg

A shiny RV adorned with a cartoon warrior holding a shield and a jumbo toothbrush spans several parking spaces outside a church in Detroit’s Marygrove neighborhood.

Inside the vehicle is a state-of-the art mobile dental clinic.

Jhniya Wiggins has just finished having her teeth cleaned, but she’s not quite ready to exit the chair.

WDET/Laura Herberg

“I’m brushing a dragon’s teeth,” the 7-year-old explains as she works a large, yellow toothbrush on the teeth of a plush, stuffed dragon. She says the brushing will help “make it grow big and strong.”

Wiggins is a patient at the Titans for Teeth Mobile Clinic, which is staffed by third- and fourth-year students at the University of Detroit Mercy School of Dentistry.

But the clinic is more than just a vehicle for the students to hone their skills, says April DiGiovanni, a dental hygienist and mobile clinic manager.

“We have serviced many kids that this is the first time they’ve ever been to the dentist,” says DiGiovanni, who is also an affiliate faculty member at University of Detroit Mercy. The clinic is part of the school’s dental outreach efforts, which report serving thousands of patients annually.

WDET/Laura Herberg

A 2010 report from the Mackinac Center for Public Policy showed that more than 40 percent of third graders in metro Detroit had untreated dental diseases like tooth decay.

DiGiovanni says one reason for those issues is because some children have trouble getting to see a dentist.

“Transportation is a huge issue in the metro Detroit area,” says DiGiovanni. “There aren’t a lot of dental offices in the city so that can also be an issue.”

In Michigan, everyone under 21 with Medicaid qualifies for a free dental plan. But that doesn’t mean their parents are covered.

“There’s not a lot of patients here with insurance so it’s usually not an area where private practices do set up,” DiGiovanni says. “So, when we have… mobile dentistry come out, it can eliminate that by us coming to them.”

Which is why, during the school year, the mobile clinic tends to be parked in school parking lots. But this summer the team is stopping at community spots like the House of Prayer and Praise.

WDET/Laura Herberg

At the clinic, 9-year-old Stephen Morris sits up in a dental chair. One of the students holds a white mirror in front of him.

“Okay I want you to show me real quick, how you floss, alright?” the student says.

Morris moves the floss side to side the way a cartoon character might shine a gold tooth. The student instructs him to “hug it around the tooth, and just gently put it down and back up.”

“Like this?” Morris asks.

“Yeah, just like that,” says the student.

Before the flossing lesson, Morris received a filling.

“It kind of feeled weird but I’m happy I got it filled because some things were going wrong,” he says.

His teeth feel chalky now but he understands that dental health is important “because your teeth could fall out.” Which he says, would mean you would only be able to talk with your gums.

Luckily, according to Morris, he brushes his teeth twice a day.

The Titans for Teeth Mobile Clinic will be offering free services to children from July 10 through 13 at the House of Prayer and Praise, 16520 Wyoming Ave., Detroit. For more information you can call (313) 340-0230.



  • Laura Herberg
    Laura Herberg is a Reporter for 101.9 WDET, telling the stories about people inhabiting the Detroit region and the issues that affect us here.