Special Smiles is one of the core components of the Special Olympics Healthy Athletes initiative, created to focus attention on the overall health issues facing Special Olympics athletes. The mission of Special Smiles is to increase access to dental care for Special Olympics athletes, as well as all people with intellectual disabilities.
Dental screenings are used as a means to increase awareness of the state of the athletes’ oral health for the athletes themselves, as well as their parents and/or caregivers.
The athletes are provided with hygiene education to help ensure they are doing an adequate job of brushing and flossing, as well as nutritional education to understand how their diet affects their total health. The athletes also are provided with a list of dentists/clinics in their area who will treat patients with special needs, should they have difficulty finding a dentist. At most locations, free mouth guards are provided for athletes competing in contact or high-risk sports.
One of the primary objectives of Special Smiles is to increase the number of dental professionals who will serve people with intellectual disabilities in their practices and clinics. This is accomplished by encouraging dental students, as well as practicing dentists, to conduct screenings at Special Smiles events. Special Smiles offers AGD- and ADA-recognized Continuing Education credits in exchange for their participation. It is a wonderful way to break down the barriers that too often prevent dental care professionals from working with this population.
Data is collected for each athlete who receives a dental screening and compiled for analysis. This generates a snapshot of the oral health of a representative sample of the hundreds of thousands of Special Olympics athletes around the world. These data are used to encourage more dental schools to increase the special needs instruction they offer, and to demonstrate to governments of all levels that access to oral health providers for this population must be increased.
Special Smiles events are located in the state/provincial, national or regional Special Olympic Games around the world. The initiative relies on volunteers to staff the events. There is a volunteer local coordinator for each Special Olympics Games that includes a Special Smiles screening. The coordinator is responsible for recruiting volunteers (dentists, dental students, hygienists and non-professionals) and handling all of the logistics on-site. Clinical supplies for the screenings are donated by one of the national sponsors of Special Smiles, and products for the “goody bags” (toothbrush, toothpaste and floss) given to each participating athlete are supplied or paid for by other sponsors. Additional sponsor contributions help expand the Special Smiles initiative, primarily through education and/or research and data collection projects.
Thank you to our Special Smiles Sponsor, Delta Dental of Minnesota Foundation!
Health Programs Coordinator