Godfrey, Ill. - On Saturday, May 1, Korte Stadium in Edwardsville once again played host to the Southwestern Illinois Special Olympics. The spring games included all of the usual running, jumping and throwing events, along with a very popular pre- and post- event program known as Special Smiles.
Special Smiles is a national program designed to provide dental screenings, patient education and nutritional counseling on site to the athletes competing in the games.
Each year, Dr. Poonam Jain, director of Community Dentistry at the SIU School of Dental Medicine, along with Cathy Anderson, Adjunct Faculty and the Mobile Health Unit Dental Hygienist at Lewis and Clark Community College, collaborate to provide area athletes with foundational dental services. Dr. Jain supervises SIU dental students as they provide dental screenings, and Anderson oversees L&C Dental Hygiene and Dental Assisting students, as they provide patient education, oral care instructions and nutritional counseling to the athletes and their families.
“Our students participate in many community events over their four years with us at the dental school but Special Olympics has always been special,” Dr. Jain said. “The event evaluations from students are always highly positive and it is rare that the students are not touched by an athlete at the games. Personally I feel the games are an amazing event for kids and adults with special needs. The special smiles program brings attention to the importance of oral health for overall health. The athletes benefit from the oral screening and education and the dental students feel more confident and comfortable providing care to people with special needs. I hope to continue the partnership with L&C at this event for years to come.”
“Of all the community service events our dental programs are involved in, the Special Smiles program is hands down our students’ favorite,” Anderson said. “I never have trouble recruiting volunteers. The students come away from this event feeling a sense of personal and professional enrichment that can’t be duplicated.”
Anderson said the Special Smiles tent provides dental screenings, educational displays, games, prizes, oral healthcare kits, and most importantly, a sense of comfort and familiarity for the athletes.
The athletes visit the Special Smiles tent with their families and/or coaches prior to, or after their individual events. Together, SIU-SDM and L&C have been providing this community service for 14 years.
“The athletes have come to recognize us as the dental people. We are slowly breaking down the negative social stigma and barriers associated with special needs populations and dental services,” Anderson said. “Today, many more athletes are willing to experience a dental screening. We have taught them that opening their mouth is nothing to be fearful of.”
This year’s Special Smiles event screened 110 athletes.
“Each athlete possessed a smile that was not only unique, but quite memorable,” Anderson said. “These athletes are extraordinary people, whom we can all learn a lesson from. They have smiles so genuine; they make you forget the word special. They are truly the gold-medal winners in life.”
For more information about Special Olympics, Special Smiles contact Cathy Anderson, CDA, RDH, BS at (618) 468-4423 or firstname.lastname@example.org