Promising Practices

Special Olympics Arkansas

An Athlete Gets a Dental Exam from a Volunteer Health Care Professional During a Healthy Athletes Special Smiles Event at the 2015 World Summer Games in L.A.


People with intellectual disabilities (ID) often have oral health issues that go undiagnosed and untreated. Results from 22,100 Special Smiles screenings conducted in 2016 with Special Olympics athletes showed that 39.2% had untreated tooth decay, 27.3% had missing teeth, 16.7% received an urgent referral, 46.9% had gingival signs, and 15.4% had mouth pain.1 There are many reasons for these health issues, including the fact that many oral health professionals are not properly trained on how to interact with, diagnose or treat people with ID. Also, health promotion and prevention initiatives rarely target people with disabilities. The high cost of specialized services, such as dental care, also lead to the exclusion of people with ID from participating in mainstream health services, and this exclusion often limits access to even routine care for people with ID.


Special Olympics Arkansas, in partnership with Delta Dental of Arkansas and Delta Dental of Arkansas Foundation, held a day-long training for 96 oral health professionals. The goal of the training was to teach the dentists, hygienists, assistants and students participating how to provide quality care to adults and children with ID in their professional practices. Education focused on the specific health needs of people with ID, fears and barriers to providing quality care, making office environments and practices more inclusive and accessible, and effective patient and caregiver communication. The training concluded with hands-on experience working with people with this training were offered eight hours of continuing education credits.


Prior to this training, 30% of participants did not feel adequately prepared to work with patients with ID. Post-training survey results showed 95% of participants felt more comfortable working with people with ID, 97% felt better able to provide better care for patients with ID, and 87% planned to pursue additional educational opportunities to learn more about people with ID. Course participants are now listed in Delta Dental’s recommended medical provider network for people with ID.

1 Healthy Athletes Prevalence Report (2016)