At a recent event in Atlanta, the Georgia Dental Association partnered with Special Olympics to help athletes with intellectual disabilities get needed dental care.
More than 80 volunteers from the dental community, including 25 GDA member dentists, along with hygienists, assistants, dental students and hygiene students volunteered their time and services at Special Olympics, Special Smiles on May 20, 2017. Over the course of the day, volunteers screened 250 athletes and provided 87 sealants. In addition, the athletes learned about preventive dental care, were fitted for athletic mouth guards and received fluoride varnish applications. In addition, GDA volunteers provided dental screenings on August 19 at the Gold Cup Bowling event.
“Georgia was one of the first few states to implement a Special Smiles program at any Special Olympics games,” says Dr. Jonathan Dubin, who has chaired the event for more than 20 years. The dental program’s success led to other healthy athlete programs such as eyes and podiatry. Since 1997, GDA members have been screening athletes with intellectual disabilities gleaning data that has led to numerous legislation and programs benefiting one of the most underserved and neglected populations not only here in the USA, but worldwide.
“Through the years, we have added night guard fabrication, sealants, oral hygiene instructions, nutritional counseling, and fluoride varnish applications to increase the value of our program’s data collection and referrals for treatment,” says Dubin. He attributes data collection to increased funding for this population and notes the data led to a designation as an underserved population, which increased eligibility for grant funding.
“It’s about as worthy of an event there is,” says Dubin. There is a population starving for dental care, and it’s an opportunity to get screened, collect data and introduce dental students to this population.
Dubin encourages all dentists, and especially dental students, to participate in the Special Olympics, Special Smiles event. “It is important for dental students to be exposed to patients with intellectual disabilities. By working with this population, students and dentists overcome their fears and are more likely to treat those patients in their practices.”
Dr. Shirley Fisher of Warner Robbins is a longtime volunteer, along with her family. “These special needs athletes have such a great character about them,” she says. “If this is where the need is, that’s where we are.”
“This type of population is very vulnerable,” says Dr. Jorge Bernal, a Special Smiles volunteer for the past eight years. Bernal says Georgia is one of the few states that offers sealants. He continues to volunteer year after year because he says it’s rewarding to help people in need.
The volunteers were enthusiastic to work with the athletes and many will volunteer again in August for the Summer Games in Warner Robbins. “Everyone enjoys it,” says Dubin. “They get out more than they put in.”
You can view photos from both events online.