Sanford Fenton, D.D.S., could feel the electricity in the air.
Everywhere he turned, he saw smiling faces as his ears filled with the excited voices of this year’s athletes in the 2009 Special Olympics World Winter Games held Feb. 17-13 in Idaho.
Fenton, chair of pediatric dentistry at The University of Texas Dental Branch at Houston, played a vital role in trying to keep the teeth in those smiling faces healthy through free dental screenings of the athletes.
As a global clinical adviser for Special Olympics, Fenton also trained 35 pediatric and general dentists who will become local clinical directors around the world.
“They left with knowledge on how to treat patients with developmental and intellectual disabilities,” Fenton said. “I, along with the trainees, performed oral screenings for the athletes. We also talked to them about oral hygiene and good nutrition. During the examination, the athletes were also fitted for mouth guards for the games.”
If an athlete needed further dental care, 270 volunteers were standing by to provide dental treatment in a mobile dental van, local dental offices or, if necessary, transportation to an emergency center.
“One of the athletes I examined had a serious infection in his mouth. He needed immediate treatment and was placed on antibiotics. He was also scheduled to see an oral surgeon for multiple extractions,” Fenton said.
Of the athletes at the games, typically 45 percent have untreated decay and up to 60 percent have excessive periodontal disease, while 13 to 15 percent of the athletes report mouth pain, Fenton said.
Trainees learned how to initiate, coordinate and implement Special Olympics Special Smiles Programs in their local communities. They also learned hands-on how to manage the behaviors of individuals with intellectual disabilities.
Steven Hackmyer, D.D.S, associate professor of pediatric dentistry at the UT Dental Branch, was a trainee this year. “The experience of being trained, as well as being part of the games, was truly phenomenal. It was the experience of a lifetime and one I will always remember,” Hackmyer said. “Meeting, examining and teaching oral care to the athletes, most of whom did not speak English, was quite enjoyable and wonderful. It was rewarding to see the impact and difference we had on so many of the athletes.”