Special Smiles clinical director helps people with disabilities access dental care | American Dental Association

‘Our responsibility’: Special Smiles clinical director helps people with disabilities access dental care

As a clinical director with Special Smiles — the dental arm of the Special Olympics’ Healthy Athletes program, which offers free health screenings and education to participants — Emily Hahn, D.D.S., helps to meet the oral health care needs of athletes with intellectual disabilities.

The owner of Skyview Pediatric Dentistry in Town and Country, Missouri, Dr. Hahn became involved with Special Smiles in 2015 after being inspired to focus her career on caring for people with special health care needs by an instructor in her residency program. Dr. Hahn volunteers at Special Olympics events in Missouri, where her primary responsibilities include ensuring dental screenings go smoothly and helping to connect athletes to needed oral care.

“Oral health care is the No. 1 unmet health care need of patients with special health care needs,” Dr. Hahn said. “Now, it is our responsibility to change this statistic. In my opinion, the greatest barrier is the fear that many dentists have in treating this population and the behaviors that may need to be addressed. Not caring for this population is neglect on our part.”

Dr. Hahn is also a pediatric dentist at St. Louis Children’s Hospital, where she exclusively treats children with special health care needs and their siblings. Patients at her private practice include children with special health care needs as well.

As a pediatric dentist, Dr. Hahn said it is important for general dentists to treat patients with disabilities, too, to help address their oral health care needs as adults. Volunteering with Special Smiles, which serves both children and adults, is a great opportunity to get their feet wet, she said.

“Many people say they go into dentistry to care for others,” Dr. Hahn said. “Your kind words, patience and compassion for those who don't always receive this is remembered and oh, so appreciated.”

To learn more about Special Smiles, visit specialolympics.org/tag/special-smiles.