Special Olympics Arkansas



From the #deltadentalARFoundation: For Arkansans with intellectual disabilities, the prospect of going to the dentist can be alarming.

For dentists, the prospect of treating patients with intellectual disabilities (ID) can be alarming.

“It’s the fear of the unknown,” explains Jennifer Avery, the wellness and coach advancement coordinator at Special Olympics Arkansas (SOAR).

“Dentists learn in dental school how to alter a treatment strategy on an intellectual basis, but not how they actually manage a patient with ID who may appear afraid or agitated.”

However, this fear can quickly turn into confidence and calm with some coaching and training.

SOAR provides such training to 400 to 500 Arkansas healthcare and dental professionals each year. A #communitygrant from the Delta Dental of Arkansas Foundation helps fund the initiative, which may be the only one of its kind in the state and is offered free of charge to participants. 

Jennifer and SOAR health partners travel to provider offices (or meet them virtually) to educate them about the best practices for interacting with individuals with ID.

The training focuses on two main topics: communication skills and mindset.

  1. Providers learn the importance of speaking to patients with ID like any other patient, especially if they are adults; they learn to look for signs of understanding or confusion and to observe and react to body language.
  2. They also learn to recognize and avoid the potential bias of explaining any health condition as part of the disability rather than an unrelated illness or disease. Case in point: a non-verbal individual who suddenly appeared combative and started grunting and thrashing around. Psychotic drugs were proposed, but then the actual cause was discovered: a painful tooth abscess.

“We emphasize to providers never to assume anything, but treat the patient with ID as thoroughly and objectively as anybody else,” Jennifer says.

Then her face lights up as she describes a lightbulb moment.

“When a provider calls me sometime after the training and tells me, ‘I just treated an individual with ID and realized this was no different from treating any other patient, and I have nothing to worry about,’ that’s a real breakthrough,” she says.

We love transformational changes like these. Bravo to the staff at SOAR and the dentists who participate in this inclusive training. 

Does your organization create life-changing impact to improve the oral health of Arkansans? Check out our funding opportunities here or email us at foundation@deltadentalar.com.

2022 Community Grantee, Special Olympics


Special Olympics, inclusive provider


Special Olympics, Training

Special Olympics Arkansas