On December 9, the dental college at A.T. Still University in Mesa, Arizona will be closed – unless you are a Special Olympics Arizona athlete. For that day, the students and entire faculty will completely devote their time and efforts to fill cavities, conduct cleanings, and provide a multitude of other dental care procedures to dozens of athletes in need – all free of charge.
The event is the brainchild of Abrahim Caroci, a student at the college who has been increasingly active in the Special Olympics Special Smiles program.
“This is all a product of me being exposed to Special Olympics,” he said. “Special Smiles is a great idea, but ideas are only great when you put them into action locally.”
And acting locally is exactly how Special Olympics Arizona is reaching out and finding athletes most in need. On Oct 15, the Program held its fall games and offered Healthy Athletes. More than 100 athletes were screened in the Special Smiles tent, and about half were found to be in need of follow-up care and invited to the December event.
“This is very exciting for us, to be able to bridge the gap between screening and dental care for the athletes,” said Isaac Sanft, Healthy Athletes coordinator for Special Olympics Arizona.
According to Abrahim, however, the December event is just a fraction of the impact he hopes to have on the health for people with intellectual disabilities. Using social media and a website he launched – www.globaloralhealthleaders.org, he wants to be able to connect dental students with resources, volunteer opportunities with Special Smiles wherever they live, research, and each other to collaborate and compare notes. Although just getting started, there are already “chapters” established in California, Texas , and even Brazil.
“If you want to change things, start on the student level,” Abrahim said. “They are the future oral health leaders.”