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USC event serves 500 patients with special needs

August 31, 2015

By Michelle Manchir

Photo of Colin Don, Avishai Sadan, Jacob Tazik, Neda Shafa
Dental students (L-R) Colin Don and Jacob Tazik and Neda Shafa pause from their volunteer work for a photo with USC dental school dean Avishai Sadan, center, in black jacket.
Los Angeles — Thanks to 10-and-11-hour days from more than 150 students and 25 faculty members at University of Southern California’s Herman Ostrow School of Dentistry, 500 Special Olympics athletes gained an extra reason to smile.

“A lot of these athletes don’t smile at first,” said Davis Do, a dental school student, who administered X-rays to athletes before their treatment. “But after a good cleaning or filling, they walk away from here with a huge smile heading into their competition.”

The dental care — which included extractions, restorations and even root canals and partial dentures — took place over seven days in July and August. The event marked the first time athletes were able to access significant dental treatment as part of the Special Olympics Healthy Athletes program, according to the school. The Special Olympics World Games took place from July 25-Aug. 2. Nearly 7,000 athletes from 177 countries attended the events, which took place at both USC and the University of California, Los Angeles.

During past healthy athletes events, participants received only dental screenings, along with mouthguards and fluoride treatment, said Dr. Santosh Sundaresan, chair for community oral health programs at the school who also oversees the school’s mobile dental health program.

“We do a lot of community events, but this was really something special,” Dr. Sundaresan said. “These athletes were just amazing, amazing people.”

The patients were people aged 16-50 years with intellectual disabilities from all over the world. While many did not speak English, this did not encumber the dental teams providing care, said Dr. Sundaresan, because all the athletes traveled with a coach and/or a liaison who could communicate with the dentists and dental students.

Furthermore, students and staff were well equipped to provide for patients with disabilities, he said, in large part because the Ostrow School of Dentistry’s Special Patient Clinic. The clinic provides dental services to the developmentally disabled, elderly and infirm, and all students are required to spend a one-week minimum at this facility, Dr. Sundaresan said.

Athletes were screened as much as possible to get information about follow-up treatment in their home countries, Dr. Sundaresan said. For athletes who could not access dental care in their home countries, volunteers performed “as much urgent dental care as possible,” Dr. Sundaresan said. “For others, we gave them radiographs and follow up paperwork, so hopefully they can get help in their country.”

The gratitude of the patients, some of whom needed treatment for pain and other acute issues, was heartwarming and made the long hours worth the work, Dr. Sundaresan said.

“You can just tell by their smiles,” he said, adding that some of the athletes gave pins from their home countries to dental staff as a thank you gift. “You know that time of yours was worth the while.”

Furthermore, Dr. Sundaresan said he hopes participating in these types of public health events helps shine a lot on the need of dental care for people with disabilities.

“It was an eye opener to see the immense dental need in these athletes and the significant lack of access to dental care for them, even for athletes from USA and other developed countries,” he said. “It is my hope that this triggers a change in the mindset and the way we treat these amazing Special Athletes.”

For more information on Special Olympics Health Athletes programs or to get involved, visit specialolympics.org and search for “healthy athletes.”