Outreach, Students

UNC-CH School of Dentistry Volunteers with Special Smiles

On Nov. 10, 25 volunteers from the UNC-CH School of Dentistry, ECU School of Dental Medicine, and local volunteer dentists, provided oral hygiene instruction and screenings to more than 150 Special Olympics athletes as a part of their Special Smiles initiative.

For the past 25 years, Michael Milano, DMD, has participated in Special Smiles, a dental health discipline of Special Olympics Healthy Athletes® that provides athletes with intellectual disabilities the opportunity to take charge of their oral health. In 2016, Milano was recognized for his dedication to improving quality health care and advancing the health initiatives of Special Olympics with a Golisano Health Leadership Award.

Milano serves as one of the clinical directors for Special Smiles. He works to recruit student and dental practitioner volunteers to provide services during the two Special Smiles events each year. The volunteers perform dental exams, make mouth guards and more. The ECU School of Dental Medicine’s Clinical Director, Loren Alves, organized the November event, while Milano organized the June event.

There are two parts of this program which are most important, says Milano. The first is providing these services to athletes. The second is the experience that students and residents have while working with athletes.

“It sort of demystifies that whole, ‘Can I work with this group of patients?’ Well, of course you can,” said Milano. “It takes a little bit of empathy and a little bit of patience, but of course you can work with them. And I think [Special Smiles] helps them get past that concern.”

Milano says throughout the two decades that he has been involved with Special Smiles, he has found that many continue to be involved with the organization after volunteering.

He hopes that when dental student and resident volunteers go into private practice they are more likely to include patients with intellectual and developmental differences because of their exposure during their training.

Special Smiles provides comprehensive oral health care information, free dental screenings, as well as instructions on proper brushing and flossing techniques to Special Olympics athletes. The program celebrated its 50th anniversary in 2018.