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Special Smiles®

A Special Olympics Michigan athletes receives a dental screening.

The mission of Special Olympics Smiles® is to increase access to dental care for Special Olympics athletes, as well as all people with intellectual disabilities. Dental screenings are used as a means to increase awareness of the state of the athletes’ oral health for the athletes themselves, as well as their parents and/or caregivers. Athletes are given hygiene education to help ensure they are doing an adequate job of brushing and flossing, as well as nutritional education to understand how their diet affects their total health.

The objectives of Special Smiles include:

  • Increase access to dental care for Special Olympics athletes, as well as people with intellectual disabilities.
  • Raise dental professionals’ awareness of the oral health concerns of people with special needs, including difficulties involved in accessing care.
  • Develop a body of knowledge about the oral health care needs of children and adults with disabilities.
  • Provide a list of regional dental professionals who care for people with special needs to all athletes who participate in Special Smiles.

Additional research conducted with athletes at Special Olympics events has revealed:

  • 47% have periodontal conditions
  • 37% have untreated tooth decay
  • 14% are in need of urgent care
  • 14% have dental pain

Available screenings:

Special Smiles events are available during State Poly Hockey Finals, State Basketball Finals, State Summer Games, and State Fall Games.  At Special Smiles® screenings, dental professionals provide screenings, health education and prevention services and refer athletes for follow-up care. Athletes are given a new toothbrush, toothpaste and dental floss. Free mouth guards are provided for athletes competing in contact or high-risk sports. Athletes that have completed a permission slip also receive a fluoride varnish.

Information for Healthcare Professionals

Interested in becoming a clinical director? 

Clinical Directors are an important part of the Healthy Athletes Special Smiles team. Clinical Directors are responsible for working with their local Special Olympics Program and other volunteer health professionals in coordinating a Special Smiles event in their region.

Clinical Director Details

Clinical Director Interest Form

Interested in volunteering at a Special Smiles event? 

Volunteer roles are available for individuals of all backgrounds including dentists, hygienists, dental students, dental assistants, and even non-clinical volunteers. Examples of volunteer roles available at Special Smiles screenings include:

  • Screeners
  • Scribes
  • Patient education
  • Athlete registration
  • Athlete guides

To register to volunteer at a Special Smiles event, contact Kellie Murphy at