Strong Smiles for Special Olympics Athletes

Strong Smiles for Special Olympics Athletes

After a two year hiatus due to the COVID-19 pandemic, students with the School of Dental Medicine were back to providing oral screenings and other preventative service for Special Olympics athletes in Connecticut.

This year’s Special Smiles Healthy Athletes event took place during the 2022 Special Olympic Connecticut’s Summer Games at Fairfield University. For the past two decades, UConn dental students have volunteered their time to provide intraoral and extraoral dental examinations, personal oral hygiene instruction, sport mouth guards, preventive fluoride varnish treatments, and dental care referral services.

This year, 30 students in the UConn’s Special Care Dentistry Interest Group volunteered during the event.

“For students, volunteering with the Healthy Athletes program provides a unique opportunity to work with individuals with special health care needs outside a traditional healthcare setting,” said Dr. Matthew Lepowsky, adjunct clinical instructor and clinical director of Special Smiles at the UConn School of Dental Medicine. “There are limited opportunities to treat patients with intellectual or developmental disabilities (I/DD) in the standard educational curriculum, and thus participating in Special Smiles increases students’ comfort working with this population.”

“This experience makes dental students better prepared to treat individuals with I/DD in their future careers. For athletes, working with dental students in a friendly, low-stress environment fosters trust in the dental profession and encourages active participation in maintaining good oral health,” Lepowsky continued.

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.

In addition to the Summer Games, UConn dental students historically participated in the Special Olympics Holiday Sports Classic as well as other Special Olympics Connecticut events. In 2016, the School of Dental Medicine received the Golisano Health Leadership Award for the school’s engagement with Special Olympics.

Special Olympics is the world’s largest sports organization and public health organization for more than 4.5 million people with intellectual disabilities. The Special Olympics Healthy Athletes program provides more than 1.6 million free health examinations annually in several areas of health promotion—including dentistry.