MESA, Ariz. – A.T. Still University’s Arizona School of Dentistry & Oral Health (ATSU-ASDOH) hosted its second annual Day for Special Smiles in late November, providing dental care to people with developmental disabilities, including athletes from Special Olympics Arizona. An astounding 45 patients needing extra dental attention were given oral healthcare free of cost.

Day for Special Smiles is an expansion from the pilot program that was launched in 2011. Fall 2012 marked a full-fledged launch by 30 ATSU-ASDOH students, key faculty members, and generous organizations and donors. ATSU-ASDOH students organized screenings where individuals with developmental disabilities were evaluated and recommended for the Day for Special Smiles initiative.

Unique initiatives like this are especially critical for this population as dentistry is not a covered service. Most patients have Arizona Health Care Cost Containment System, so many do not have the financial means to get care. As a result, these individuals suffer from untreated oral diseases.

It was the interaction with one of the patients, Quincy Jones, that particularly touched Abrahim Caroci, D4, clinic director, Special Olympics Special Smiles Arizona.

“His happiness and positive attitude, despite the fact that he was in pain and in need of extensive dental care, touched my heart,” said Caroci. “Interactions such as this are a constant reminder of the many challenges the underserved face every day and the pain a special smile can be hiding. It also reminds me of the role we can play to improve their overall health and quality of life.”

Special guests included Cindy McCain, chair, Hensley & Co., ambassador, 2013 Special Olympics World Games in Pyeongchang, Korea; Steven P. Perlman, DDS, MScD, DHL (hon.), founder, Special Olympics Special Smiles, an oral health Initiative for the athletes of Special Olympics International; Tim Martin, president and CEO, Special Olympics Arizona; and Larry Clausen; executive director, Arizona Developmental Disabilities Planning Council.

“We are excited by the win-win situation of this event. Our students get a great opportunity to meet and treat our special patients in a real-life service learning model, and folks who really need it the most get some very necessary dental care,” said Maureen Romer, DMD, associate professor, director, Special Care Dentistry.

Generous organizations and donors who helped make the Day for Special Smiles possible include Arizona Dental Foundation, Arizona Department of Economic Security Division of Developmental Disabilities, Arizona Department of Health Services—Office of Oral Health, Arizona Developmental Disabilities Planning Council, Delta Dental of Arizona, Special Olympics Arizona, and ValleyLife.

“This was a rewarding day for the faculty, as well as the students involved,” said Denise Frances, DMD, associate director of Special Care Dentistry. “It’s wonderful to be able to offer dental care to this vulnerable population. Not only would the majority of the Day for Special Smiles patients have difficulty affording the dental care they received, many would be unable to find providers skilled to treat them.”

A photo gallery from the Day for Special Smiles 2012 is available at the official ATSU Facebook page.

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