The School of Dental Medicine Special Care Dentistry Club’s mission is to expand dental clinic care and accommodations to better reach the special needs population, while also creating more opportunities for students to interact with this community.
Class of 2022 DMD students Julia Higgins, Dominic Muccio and Parth Patel started the club during their first year of dental school, each coming from backgrounds in working/volunteering with the special care population.
“The biggest hope for our group is to help dental students be more comfortable and help them understand that this population of people deserves as great of care as anybody else,” said Higgins. “They should be seen just as our brother or sister or mom or friend. There is a lot of love and patience we can give, and a lot of love and patience that can be returned with that.”
Upon creating the group, the founders prioritized developing a partnership with the Special Olympics. Through the Special Smiles® initiative, part of the Special Olympics Healthy Athletes® program, students and faculty participate in pop-up dental clinics at local Special Olympics events to provide access to dental care. During the screenings, the dental professionals provide oral hygiene education and referrals for follow-up care. These events were disrupted due to COVID-19 but will resume when it is safe to do so.
The Special Care Dentistry Club is committed to volunteerism, participating in events such as Night to Shine, a special needs prom, and coaching a Miracle League baseball team—providing more opportunities for dental students to connect with the special needs community. The group has also hosted lectures, virtual sessions and online teaching opportunities.
Since starting the group at Case Western Reserve University, the founders have collaborated with The Ohio State University special care dentistry club, promoting cross-institutional partnerships and idea sharing on how to expand support across the state.
Looking ahead, the group is focused on resuming in-person activities and expanding outreach opportunities to area schools, including hands-on oral health care demonstrations, such as how to properly brush and floss, and why dental health is so important. The team is also looking into ways to increase advocacy for the hearing-impaired population and make interpretation services more accessible and broadly available.