West Baltimore Students learn about careers in dentistry at Planet Smilez camp

BALTIMORE — Some West Baltimore middle school students got the chance to try their hand at dentistry on Thursday at Planet Smilez Camp Discovering Dentistry Camp. 

The week-long camp, held at the University of Maryland School of Dentistry, introduces students to the dental profession and teaches them how to care for their own oral health. 

“The Discovering Dentistry Camp is something that I started when I was a first-year dental student here, as I wanted to provide an opportunity for kids in the community,” said Doctor Kathryn Pawlak, a 2019 graduate of the school who founded the camp and a nonprofit called Planet Smilez, which is dedicated to oral education. 

Pawlak was inspired to begin the program by her grandfather, who had poor oral health and needed a full set of dentures by the age of 40 after lacking access to dental care while he was a prisoner of war during World War II.  

“For me, access to prevention, access to the health sciences field, was something that I thought was really important,” Pawlak said.

The sixth-, seventh- and eighth-grade students at the camp spent the day practicing dental procedures such as oral surgery and completing fillings with plastic teeth molds. 

“I learned new things about our teeth and learning what they use to do a seal,” said Alexa Richardson, a rising sixth-grade student. 

Each of the students at the camp is part of the University of Maryland Baltimore CURE Scholars Program, which works to create a pipeline to careers in health care, science, and research for those students going to partner West Baltimore schools.

The partner schools include Green Street Academy, Southwest Baltimore Charter School and Franklin Square Elementary/Middle School. The program is funded by the National Cancer Institute’s Continuing Umbrella of Research Experiences (CURE). 

The Planet Smilez camp is just one of many career fields the program exposes students to. 

Pawlak said she hopes some of the students are inspired to enter dentistry after attending. 

“I would love to see, as the scholars graduate and go on to college,” she said. “I would love to see them come back and be students here.”

Students interested in getting involved in the CURE Scholars Program can visit for information about registration requirements. 

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