The Special Smiles oral health program of Special Olympics International was a pilot program in 1999 and 2000 designed to increase access to oral care among those with mental retardation, particularly those who compete as Special Olympics athletes.
Fear of dental encounters is high among the developmentally disabled, and few dentists have been trained to treat such patients. Special Olympics International, Washington, is an organization that offers year-round sports training and athletic competition to children and adults with mental retardation.
The program was introduced at the World Summer Special Olympics Games in Raleigh, N.C., June 26–July 4, 1999.
- During the nine days of the games, 2,223 athletes were screened at the Special Olympics International Special Smiles venue.
All of these athletes received:
- Oral assessment.
- Educational services and materials.
- Mouth guards.
- Personal preventive supplies.
Some participants had preventive dental sealants applied to their teeth. Others received a list of dentists and clinics to contact for follow-up care.
- Results of the screening revealed that:
- More than 40 percent of the participants were in need of professional dental care beyond the level of routine, maintenance care.
- More than one-third of those participants needed urgent care.
- Twenty percent reported mouth pain.
- Forty percent showed signs of gum infection.
- One-third had active, untreated dental decay in their molar teeth.
- Special Smiles program staff and volunteers conducted 25 other Special Olympics International Special Smiles screenings in 1999.
- Following the Raleigh games, Special Olympics International developed additional materials promoting the Healthy Athletes Initiative, including the Special Smiles component.