On Saturday, March 15, ten people from the College of Dentistry volunteered to perform dental screenings and educate athletes during the Special Olympics in Lake City as part of the Special Olympics Special Smiles® Healthy Athletes program.
It was a valuable service for the athletes and proved valuable for the volunteers as well.
“Participating in the clinic was a life changing experience and at the same time it allowed me to give something back to these amazing people that deserve the best,” Pre-dental Student Johella Liguori, said.
Many people know about the Special Olympics, an international nonprofit dedicated to empowering individuals with intellectual disabilities to become physically fit, productive and respected members of society through sports training and competition.
Fewer know about an initiative added in 1996 called “Healthy Athletes.” Healthy Athletes includes Special Smiles, Healthy Hearing, Opening Eyes, Fit Feet and other medically-based programs that provide screenings and education for the athletes, many of whom have limited access to health care.
Last year Dr. Enrique Bimstein, a professor in Pediatric Dentistry, received training so he could serve as a clinical director and trainer for Special Smiles® during Special Olympics competitions in Florida. In addition, Julia Joh, one of our students, is trained as a Special Smiles® clinic director.
And this year he put that training to good use as he and a team of nine UF COD volunteers – students, faculty, staff and pre-dental students, traveled to Lake City where they examined athletes to determine if follow up care was needed, and also educated athletes on proper dental care.
“There are several goals for these events. Obviously we want to help the athletes by identifying any issues they may be having and also teaching them to take care of their teeth and gums,” Dr. Bimstein said. “Another goal is to expose our students and clinicians to working with special needs patients and making them comfortable about providing care to these patients. We hear from many of the athletes that the reason they don’t see a dentist regularly is that they have trouble finding dentists that are willing to accept special needs individuals.”
If an athlete requires follow-up care, Healthy Smiles provides them with a list of dental clinics that will welcome them as patients, and in the case of the need of urgent care, Special Olympics check to ensure the athlete receives the required treatment.