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Permanent link  CDS Members Volunteer at Special Smiles


Special Smiles photo 


 With a stack of 750 blank forms beside them, more than 100 volunteers opened the Special Smiles tent at Eckersall Stadium under sunny skies May 4. This annual feature of the spring Special Olympics offers free oral screenings and hygiene instructions to the athletes.

“The purpose of today is to help dental professionals who might not normally see patients with special needs and the athletes get comfortable with each other. We’re in a beautiful, non-threatening, park-like setting, and the athletes will meet a dentist with a friendly smile. It just puts everyone at ease,” said co-chair Fred Margolis, a dentist who marked 18 years with Special Smiles this spring.

From the dental education center, athletes could see a booth sponsored by Legoland, the bleachers and playgrounds. They heard an announcer call for athletes in standing long jump, wheelchair races, assisted races, and other events to gather in various areas of the stadium.

Volunteers, meanwhile, were focused on their given tasks: to greet the athletes, complete the oral screening, talk to the athletes and their caregivers about at-home care, and sometimes discuss follow-up care. All visitors that day received goody bags filled with toothpaste, a new toothbrush, floss and a list of resources for follow-up care.

Volunteers represented the Academy of General Dentistry; Alpha Omega dental fraternity; the University of Illinois at Chicago College of Dentistry; Loyola University Medical Center; Illinois Masonic Hospital; and the Grottoes, a charitable, fraternal organizations affiliated with the Masons. One special project for the Grottoes nationwide is to arrange for (and sometimes help fund) dental care for patients with special needs in their communities.

“The volunteers are essential to our success,” said co-chair Ricardo Mendoza, also a dentist. “We have volunteers who have been coming for years because they want to be a part of this day. They all understand the importance of the event, and that dental care is another challenge for these patients.”

North Side dentist Ilie Pavel and his son, first year dental student Chris, participate every year. Chris wasn’t even swayed by the pathology exam he would take the day after the games.

“We always enjoy coming to this, every year,” Dr. Pavel said.

“My whole staff loves it,” echoed Loop dentist Maharukh Kravich. Upon uttering the magic words “no cavities,” Dr. Kravich received a big hug from her first patient of the day, a young female athlete clad in bright blue sweatpants. “We put it on the schedule as soon as the e-mail comes every year.”

First-time volunteer Sue Schietert was no less enthusiastic. Ms. Schietart sees one patient with autism regularly and remembers fondly her experience at Little City while still a student.

“I’m excited to be a part of this all and do something with the kids,” said Ms. Schietert, a hygienist in Jim Frett’s Mount Prospect office. “It’s humbling and enlightening to be here today.”

Dental professionals interested in volunteering for the next Special Smiles event should contact Dr. Mendoza at in February.  


  by Joanna Brown