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Strong smiles for Special Olympics athletes

After a two-year hiatus due to the COVID-19 pandemic, students at the School of Dental Medicine have resumed providing oral exams and other preventive services for Special Olympics athletes in Connecticut.

This year’s Special Smiles Healthy Athletes event was held during the 2022 Connecticut Summer Special Olympics at Fairfield University. For the past two decades, UConn dental students have volunteered their time to provide intraoral and extraoral dental exams, personal oral hygiene instruction, sports mouth guards, preventative fluoride varnish treatments, and dental referral services.

This year, 30 students from the UConn 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 of a traditional health care setting,” said Dr. Matthew Lepowsky, associate clinical instructor and clinical director of Special Smiles at the UConn School of Medicine. Dental Medicine. “There are limited opportunities to treat patients with intellectual or developmental disabilities (I/DD) in the standard educational curriculum, and therefore participating in Special Smiles increases student comfort in working with this population.”

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

The student-run Special Care Dentistry Interest Group at UConn seeks to advance the ability, capacity, and commitment to care for 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 have 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 commitment to Special Olympics.

Special Olympics is the world’s largest sports 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 screenings annually in various areas of health promotion, including dentistry.

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