Volunteers from VCU's School of Dentistry and the Special Olympics' Special Smiles program

Virginia Dental Association Foundation Opening Wide with Free Dental Care

There were plenty of smiles at the 2023 Special Olympics Virginia Summer Games. And this year, those smiles might have been just a little wider – and healthier – thanks to a team of volunteer dentists and dental practitioners who joined the festivities to provide free dental care at the University of Richmond on June 10.

In between races and competitions, more than 500 dental procedures were performed on some 119 patients throughout the day. It was all part of the Virginia Dental Association Foundation’s “Special Smiles” event, an extension of VDAF’s venerable Mission of Mercy program, which provides free dental health services to traditionally underserved populations.

Volunteer performing dental work on a patient
Courtesy of VCU School of Dentistry

VDAF’s collaboration with Special Olympics Virginia goes back more than a decade. The organization has long recognized that serving patients with physical or intellectual debilities – or even those with high levels of anxiety when it comes to going to the dentist – requires particular skills and a chair-side manner that makes patients comfortable.

“We’ve had an amazing partnership with Special Olympics Virginia, which we’ve seen as an opportunity to help bridge barriers to those with special needs, either cognitive or physical,” said Tara C. Quinn, executive director of VDAF. “And this partnership is made possible not only by way of our volunteer dentists and hygienists but also through the support of the dental schools at VCU and the University of Pittsburgh.”

There was so much collaborative support this year that VDAF was able to extend Special Smiles beyond the participants in the Summer Games. As a result, the care teams were able to perform a total of 527 procedures, including cleanings, extractions, fillings and fluoride varnish, among other services, such as the distribution of dental guards. The estimated value of the dental care totaled $48,000.

VDAF had bilingual providers on hand to help serve the growing number of Spanish-speaking patients, a trend that VDAF has been seeing at other Mission of Mercy mobile events around the state.

Volunteer performing dental work on a patient
Courtesy of VCU School of Dentistry

“One of the primary objectives of the event – in addition to providing often-overlooked care to patients in need – is to give hands-on experience to dental students,” Quinn said. “It also helps them acquire the skills for treating patients with special health care needs.”

Since the inception of Mission of Mercy in 2000, the Virginia Dental Association has provided more than $49.6 million worth of free dental care to more than 70,000 Virginia patients.

Special Olympics Virginia supports Healthy Athletes and Healthy Communities for individuals with disabilities. Individuals with intellectual disabilities often encounter additional barriers to health care in comparison to the general population. Inclusive health is a goal of Special Olympics Virginia.

Want to know more about Special Olympics Virginia? Visit www.specialolympicsva.org. Interested in learning about the VDAF? Visit www.vdaf.org.

At the date of publication, the Virginia Dental Association is a client of The Hodges Partnership.

1 comment
  1. Josh, thanks for helping spread the word about the great work that VDAF and Special Olympics Va are doing to help make our citizens with ID healthier and fitter with a chance to succeed.

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