The Power of a Smile

February 21, 2024 Blog, Featured

True peace begins with a smile and science tell us that smiling improves our mood, and those who smile tend to be happier, more energetic, and healthier. However, for many Special Olympics athletes, access to the dental care required to get that beautiful smile can sometimes be difficult. The Special Smiles® initiative was established to assure Special Olympics athletes have access to proper dental care.

Special Smiles screenings are offered at all Special Olympics Wisconsin (SOWI) statewide events and provide screenings, health education, and prevention services, in addition to referring athletes for follow-up care when appropriate. Athletes are given a new toothbrush, toothpaste and dental floss. Free mouth guards are provided for athletes competing in contact sports.

Funding for the program is provided by the Delta Dental of Wisconsin Foundation. These dental screenings are used to increase oral health for the athletes, as well as their parents and/or caregivers. Athletes are given hygiene education to ensure they are doing an adequate job of brushing and flossing, as well as nutritional education to understand how their diet affects their total health.

“For many of our athletes, access to a dentist is limited due to insurance coverage restrictions, transportation barriers, or insufficient understanding of their dental needs,” said Brittany Hoegh, Senior Director of Health Programs for SOWI. Hoegh said the program benefits more than the athletes.

“Special Smiles events are so important, as they provide an access point to our athletes that they would otherwise not have. They also provide an opportunity to the dental professionals and students to work with and better understand the intellectual disability community and take that knowledge back to their everyday practice.”

One shining example of the importance of Special Smiles is Dan, a Special Olympics Wisconsin athlete. Dan was competing in softball at the State Fall Games in 2023 and attended Special Smiles. At his screening, Dan was identified as needing follow up care. Just a few weeks later, Dan’s sister drove him across the state to the first Special Olympics Gives Athletes a Smile Day to have several teeth extracted and be fitted for a partial denture. About a month later, Dan travelled another couple of hours to the next free dental day to receive his dentures and another cleaning. Without Special Smiles and the compassion and generosity of our Special Smiles Clinical Directors, Dr. Tammy Boudry and Dr. Robb Warren, Dan’s condition would have gone untreated and potentially led to more serious issues.

The dentists who treat our Special Smiles athletes also enjoy the interaction.

“It is always such an honor to work with the Special Olympics Special Smiles Program every year” said Dr. Karen Johnson DDS. “My team was thrilled to take care of Dan this year at Boudry Dental. By performing a number of extractions of severely decayed teeth, it allowed Dan to be pain free and heal from infection that, if left untreated, could have affected more than just his oral health.”

Dan, who also participates in bowling and basketball, certainly appreciates what Special Smiles did for him.

“Since I had my teeth fixed, I’m not in pain anymore and have more confidence. I want to thank everyone who helped me with my teeth. It’s so awesome to have a program to help people in Special Olympics, especially when some people can’t afford to get their teeth fixed. Thank you to everyone that helped make this happen!“

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