Millions of Americans are without access to basic dental care. Moreover, an alarming percentage of people with disabilities are unaware of the condition of their oral health. Nationwide, approximately 6.5 million people have been diagnosed with an intellectual disability. Unfortunately, due to a lack of training and an associated stigma of treating people with disabilities, less than 10% of dentists treat patients with disabilities. For these reasons, access to specialized care such as dentistry is among the main healthcare concerns for people with special needs.
On a warm day in August 2019, the 9th annual Smile Generation Serve Day kicked off. Smile Generation Serve Day is an annual day of service and a nationwide campaign of giving that focuses on providing donated dentistry to underserved patients. During this day of service, the Smile Generation partnered with Special Olympics International to provide donated dentistry to underserved members of the community. 700 Smile Generation-trusted dental practices provided donated dentistry to members of the community, including Special Olympics athletes around the country.
Since its inception in 2011, more than 15,000 patients have received donated dental services during Smile Generation Serve Day, totaling $25 million in oral health care.
“Dental work is just one small part of their life and it is one issue athletes with disabilities shouldn’t have to worry about getting taken care of,” said Joshua Frye, DMD, owner dentist of Albuquerque Modern Dentists. “If everyone chipped in a small amount like we’re doing, we wouldn’t have these underserved populations having such trouble getting the care that they need.”
2019 global data from Special Olympics' Special Smiles, an oral health screening program conducted during Special Olympics sports competitions, states 46% of Special Olympics athletes present signs of gingivitis, 37% have untreated tooth decay, 15% report pain in their mouth, and 14% receive an urgent dental referral after a screening.
See more 2019 global data for Special Olympics' Special Smiles.
At one of the Smile Generation Serve Day locations in Alexandria, Virginia, three Special Olympics athletes received dental care. Parker Smith, a Special Olympics Virginia athlete, was able to have a dental cleaning without being sedated. His experience with friendly and patient technicians allowed him to feel more comfortable with the noises from the dental tools during his cleaning.