Ashley Brintlinger DDS is a general dentist currently practicing at Peninsula Family Dentistry in her hometown of Negaunee, Michigan. While living in Ann Arbor for eight years attending University of Michigan, Brintlinger yearned for the comforts of the Upper Peninsula. She missed the water and having a variety of lakes close by, but what she missed most was the strong sense of community. This is what ultimately drew her back to live and work in the U.P.

“I love when I can wave at random people driving and they wave back, or I can strike up a conversation at the grocery store with a stranger,” Brintlinger said. “I also feel like the work that I do here makes a big impact. Down state there are dentist offices on every corner...Because there are so few dentists (in the U.P.), we don't have a strong sense of business competition like they do in other parts of the state. We are all colleagues and treat each other as such.”

Read on for more on Brintlinger’s experience as a healthcare provider living and working in the U.P. 


What does your day-to-day look like as a general dentist?
I do a lot of what you would expect: fillings, extractions, making dentures, quick check-ups after you get your teeth cleaned, and such. Have you seen those funny clips of people getting impressions taken? We do that, too. I also get to build relationships with people. We talk about their goals for the health of their mouth and we talk about things outside of the dental office: What do they like to do? How many grandkids do they have? How was their recent vacation or holiday?

What was it that drew you to a career in dentistry?
My family moved back to the area when I was 6 or 7 years old and I remember my first dentist visit with Dr. Kipka on Third Street in Marquette. He let me use the squirt gun, which I now know is called an air water syringe –– you use it to rinse and dry off teeth. He let me spray him with it! From that day on I enjoyed going to the dentist. When I was in high school Dr. Kipka let me shadow in his office. His assistants taught me how to sterilize instruments and set up rooms. I was able to see what it was like to be in a dental office. I loved how he would talk to the patients to keep them calm and distracted while he was working. They trusted him completely. 

Then there was the work itself; I have always liked doing things with my hands. I am a very detail oriented person who likes perfection, which is what makes a great dentist. We work in a small three inch cube that is dark and we have moving targets. People deserve to have the best work done every time, because they are only going to get one set of teeth and we want to help them keep it for as long as possible. I want to help my patients have confidence in their smiles; be able to eat what they want, live  pain free, and understand that the health of their mouth affects the rest of their body. 

What is the most rewarding part of your job?
There are two types of patients that are very rewarding to me. First is the smile transformations; sometimes that means crowns or veneers on the front teeth, other times it means extracting all of someone's teeth that are in bad shape and making them dentures. These are patient's that have to put a lot of trust into me. I love seeing those big smiles at the end that just won't quit, usually after years trying to hide their teeth. The second type of case I find very rewarding is a behavioral transformation. We have patients who come to the office and their mouths are in bad shape. I spend a lot of time on education: diet changes, oral hygiene changes, and tobacco cessation to name a few. When those patients start to make the connection and make the hard changes in their lives for the reward of a healthy mouth, it's huge. 

Why do you continue to do what you do?
I love my patients. It has been great going back to the community where I grew up. If I don't already know the patient outside of the office, 95% of the time we can find someone we both know. I see my patients at the bank, at the grocery store, at the park,. As my kids get older they will have patient's of mine as their teachers, friends, and teammates. More importantly, I am there to help keep my patients healthy with mouths that are in good working order. We are a team to make that happen. 

Ashley Brintlinger DDSHow do you feel about coming home, living and working in the Upper Peninsula?
I lived in Ann Arbor for eight years while I went to school. I always knew there was something missing in my surroundings...and that was water! I missed having all the lakes close by. But what I really missed was the sense of community. I feel like the work that I do here makes a big impact. Down state there are dentist offices at every corner. We have an access to care issue here –– there aren't enough dental providers for everyone. Because there are so few dentists in the U.P., we don't have a strong sense of business competition like they do in other parts of the state. We are all colleagues and treat each other as such. If one of us goes on vacation or needs extended time off, anyone in the area would be happy to help take care of patients. If you have questions about a tough or unusual case, call anyone in the county and they would be happy to help.

Tell us an impactful story that sticks with you.
This past Labor Day weekend I received a call from a number I didn't know. It turned out to be a patient's mom. Her son, let’s call him little Johnny, had been jumping on a trampoline and broke his two front teeth. She asked if I could come in at 7:30 pm on a holiday weekend. I said absolutely.

The whole family came; little Johnny was in tears. They had found the pieces of his teeth that had broken off and put them in milk; he was scared and his teeth hurt. Let me tell you, it did not look pretty. His two front teeth were broken in half diagonally. We took an x-ray and found there were no root fractures. Then the fun part –– because he had found the tooth pieces on the trampoline, we tried them on. It was a perfect fit, like puzzle pieces. We bonded them back on and that kid got his smile back. 

He said thank you to me several times without being reminded by his mom to say it. His parents were very grateful. The next day I was telling my neighbor, who is a nurse, what happened. She said to me, "I didn't know you were on call”.  I was not officially, but in reality I always am. If you need me, I'll be there to help in any way I can. Remember Dr. Kipka I told you about? When my brother was 16 he was playing catch with my dad and took a pop fly right to his front teeth...on the 4th of July at 8:00 pm. My parents called Dr. Kipka and he saw my brother that night. It's just what we do as dentists.

Do you have any advice for those aspiring to pursue dentistry?
If you are interested in the dental field, I suggest you find an office that is welcoming and spend as much time there as possible to see what it's like, both the good days and the bad. Most of the dentists I know, myself included, enjoy talking about the field that we love. We want to teach and share our experience. I want to see that spark for dentistry in a young person, because I remember how that spark feels and how it grows into a love for helping people. Find an office like that, ask questions, and participate as much as you can. You have to see if it’s the right fit for you because it is a long, hard road just to get to the degree. The work itself is equally demanding and rewarding. You have to decide for yourself if it's worth it. 


The Northern Michigan Center for Rural Health seeks to improve the health and well-being of Upper Peninsula residents and communities by developing collaborative partnerships that enhance the access and availability of affordable, quality healthcare services. For questions or comments related to this story, contact