Volunteers from the University of Connecticut (UConn) School of Dental Medicine and the University of New England College of Dental Medicine (CDM) provided free oral health screenings and preventive services through the Special Smiles program at the 2019 Special Olympics Summer Games in Connecticut and in Maine, respectively.
Special Smiles is part of the Special Olympics Healthy Athletes program, which offers health services and information to athletes in need all over the world. More than 155,000 healthcare professionals and students have been trained to treat people with intellectual disabilities through the program.
More than 20 UConn dental students, along with UConn faculty and dental hygiene students from Tunxis Community College, offered free oral health screenings, provided mouthguards and oral hygiene instruction, and administered topical fluoride to more than 120 athletes at the Connecticut event. UConn has been participating in Special Smiles for more than two decades.
Meanwhile, 37 students and six faculty members from the University of Maine CDM provided dental screenings, fluoride varnish, oral hygiene instruction, and mouthguard fabrication for athletes participating in the games in Maine. Rachel King, DDS, MPH, assistant clinical professor at CDM, is the Special Smiles clinical director for the state of Maine.
“Every year, the dental students look forward to the Summer Games with Special Olympics. This event is an opportunity for students in all class years to volunteer and teach athletes about oral health,” said UConn School of Dental Medicine third-year student and Special Care Dentistry Interest Group board member Stephanie Tsui.
“We love to see all of the athletes excited to come by our station after their big sporting events, and we look forward to seeing them again next year,” said Tsui.
The student-run Special Care Dentistry Interest Group at UConn seeks to advance capability, capacity, and commitment to serving patients who require special care using integrated skills. The group also hosts events and volunteer opportunities such as the Summer Games to educate students about patients with a wide range of disabilities and special needs.
UConn dental students also participate in the Special Olympics Holiday Sports Classic, held each November, as well as other Special Olympics Connecticut events. In 2016, the School of Dental Medicine received the Golisano Health Leadership Award for its engagement with Special Olympics.