News + Issues

Special Olympics: a stepping stone to special needs dentistry

Special Olympics: a stepping stone to special needs dentistry | Mouthing Off | Blog of the American Student Dental Association
Brooke poses with a special needs patient at the 2016 Special Olympics.

Growing up in a household with a Special Education teacher exposed me to some of the most amazing people, but also the great challenges they face each and every day. From children to the elderly, special needs encompasses people of all ages and touches their lives in many different ways. Yet, regardless of the extent of their condition, special needs patients still have the same needs as you and me when it comes to oral health care. Dentist Louisville has always offered us the best service possible, I don’t think I’d go anywhere else!

Each year, I travel to Bowling Green and Richmond, Kentucky to volunteer at the Regional and State Special Olympics. Here, special needs children and adults compete in various events throughout the day to win medals for their accomplishments in their respective sports. Some of the events that competitors participate in include softball throw, 50-100 meter dashes, swimming and gymnastics. The Special Olympics Organization designs these Olympics to reflect the World Olympics as much as possible, including a formal opening ceremony and the lighting of the torch. A dance is held at the end of the games so that participants from all over the state can celebrate alongside each other. If participants place first in their events, they are also given the opportunity to compete nationally and eventually, at the World Winter Games.

“[The] Special Olympics is crucial for individuals with special needs because it addresses many different areas of needs,” Paige Price, a Kentucky Functional Mental Disability (FMD) teacher, shared. “It helps them to build character and enables them to reap the benefits of the hard work.” FMD classrooms are designed for special needs students who deviate from the normal behaviors, such as communication, cognitive ability, as well as daily motor and social skills. Most Special Olympics participants are categorized as FMD.

Additional activities are available for participants in Olympic Town, such as a dental tent providing free oral health screenings, oral hygiene instruction and the distribution of toothbrushes and toothpaste for home use. Ensuring that dental care is accessible to these participants at the Special Olympics is more important than ever. For some, obtaining proper dental care can be very difficult due to the lack of dentists who are willing to work with these patient populations. This is exacerbated by the lack of specialized tools and devices that could make maintaining healthy oral hygiene impossible for some special needs patients.

In Ms. Price’s classroom, students brush daily, but she notes that many of the students require “physical primping” before they are able to achieve what many would consider to be a simple task. The parents of many of her students have also voiced concerns regarding a dentist’s ability to accommodate their children’s special needs in the dental office. As dental students, we are the future providers for special needs children and adults. Being a part of the Special Olympics is a great way to not only learn more about how to interact with, but also be inspired by these wonderful people. As my mother would say about her special need students, “Nothing in the world is impossible. In fact, the word itself says ‘I’m possible’.”

~ Brooke Shelton, Louisville ’18, chapter president-elect

Brooke Shelton

Brooke is a third year dental student at University of Louisville School of Dentistry. She currently serves as the LASDA President-Elect. She enjoys painting and singing in her free time, and occasionally off-roading in her Jeep Rubicon with her boyfriend on the weekends.

You may also like ...

1 Comment

  1. Ben Youel says:

    Great post, Brooke! I don’t know what your plans are after dental school, but if you’re considering doing a GPR you should look at Illinois Masonic Medical Center in Chicago ( There is a strong focus on serving special needs patients in that program. Residents work alongside talented & caring attendings to see these patients every Thursday (and some days on our mobile dental van). But all day every Thursday is special patient care (SPC) day at Masonic. Residents IV sedate the patients that need sedation for treatment and work around/work with the various disabilities that come through the door. I believe they are the largest provider of special needs dental care in the Midwest. I’ve heard of no other GPR quite like Illinois Masonic. I finished the GPR in 2014 and I was surprised that I actually began to look forward to SPC Thursdays at Masonic by the end of my residency! You seem like you’d be a good match for the program. If you (or any dental student reading this) want to hear more about Masonic shoot me an email: [email protected]

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Time limit is exhausted. Please reload CAPTCHA.