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Dental school caps week of treatment for Special Olympics athletes

Hundreds of restorations, extractions, root canals and cleanings are provided at no charge

Gymnast Xiang Li
Xiang Li, a gymnast from China, gets his checkup.
(Photo/John Hobbs)

More than 100 faculty and students from the Herman Ostrow School of Dentistry of USC provided free comprehensive dental care to athletes as part of the Special Olympics Healthy Athletes Program.

It was the first time such comprehensive care — including extractions, restorations and root canals — had been offered to the athletes with intellectual disabilities, who often have poorer oral health than their typically developing peers, research shows.

During the seven days of treatment, 360 athletes were treated, with more than 300 restorations, nearly 150 extractions and 20 root canals provided.

Seeing the smiles on their faces as they left pain-free validated for me why I do this.

Santosh Sundaresan

“It was such an incredible honor to be able to treat these athletes,” said Santosh Sundaresan DDS ’05, section chair for community oral health programs. “Seeing the smiles on their faces as they left pain-free validated for me why I do this.”

Cleaning up

Sundaresan led the Ostrow effort at the Special Olympics but said the credit really belonged to faculty, staff and residents who were so helpful. He singled out the school’s endodontics department for its work in providing the athletes with root canals — a procedure not typically provided at mobile clinics because of the time and expertise required.

In addition to complex treatments, dental hygiene students provided cleanings to more than 200 athletes and oral health care education to nearly 600 athletes throughout the weeklong event.

“A lot of these athletes don’t smile at first,” said Davis Do, who administered X-rays to athletes before their treatment. “But after a good cleaning or filling, they walk away from here with a huge smile heading into their competition.”

T-Shian Gibson, a 14-year-old volleyball player from Trinidad and Tobago, was one of the athletes waiting outside the dental van for a dental procedure.

She said she had started experiencing pain in an upper back tooth but hadn’t been able to see a dentist back home because it was too expensive.

“If I can go back without pain, that would be great,” she said.

Dr. Santosh Sundaresan inspects student work. (Photo/John Hobbs)

Santosh Sundaresan inspects a student’s work. (Photo/John Hobbs)

Smiles, everyone

Boitmuleo Setshe, a 19-year-old volleyball player from Botswana, was all smiles after leaving the dental van.

Setshe, who had had a dental restoration done and was returning the next day for more work, said he was really happy to be able to return to Bostwana with a healthier smile.

“It’s really rewarding helping these athletes because I know they are going to leave in a better situation than how they came,” said Julie Jenks, assistant professor of clinical dentistry, who volunteered during the event and oversaw Setshe’s procedure.

“These patients are going to go back to their home countries remembering USC’s dental school helping them out,” she said. “I think that shows a lot of goodwill throughout the world, and I think people remember that.”

The Special Olympics World Games concluded on Aug. 2. Thousands of athletes from 165 countries attended the events, which took place at both USC and UCLA.

“This was a once-in-a lifetime opportunity,” said Hoang-Anh Tran. “It’s just great to get out and see what else we can do as dentists to help the community.”

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Dental school caps week of treatment for Special Olympics athletes

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