Bringing Smiles to Patients with Special Needs
While we might believe that every smile is treated equally in the dental field, U of T graduate student Ali Sigal, who specializes in pediatric dentistry, would adamantly disagree. Sigal knows that oral health professionals routinely under serve many special needs individuals.

As part of the Doctor of Dental Surgery program at U of T, Sigal, as well as the other students, is responsible for a regular rotation at the Mount Sinai Clinic, which caters to special needs patients. While the clinic serves a vital purpose in the larger community, Sigal’s research conducted at the clinic back in 2006 suggests an underlying problem that stretches across North America and beyond.

In talking with the families of special needs patients, Sigal found that individuals across the country aren’t receiving the care they need in their local communities. “When you ask these families, ‘Have you tried seeing a dentist in your community?’ Nine times out of ten they say, ‘We went to five, we went to eight, before coming here,” says Sigal, “The wait list just to be seen [at the Mount Sinai Clinic] is a year long. Some patients and their caregivers travel up to eight hours to Toronto for a fifteen-minute check-up. This can’t happen.”

Oral Health, Total Health and Sharing Smiles Day

In response to this experience, Sigal found her own non-profit called Oral Health, Total Health (OHTH). OHTH’s signature event, Sharing Smiles Day, brings practicing dental professionals together with dental students and patients suffering from various mental and physical disabilities.

The goal of OHTH’s Sharing Smiles Day is pretty simple. Bringing these diverse groups together helps to break down barriers and help dental professionals identify ways in which they can do more for a historically underserved patient population.

“Patients with special needs deserve the same opportunity to optimize their oral health as does anyone. Sharing Smiles Day helps to heighten awareness that we can do more,” states the Dean of U of T’s Faculty of Dentistry, Daniel Haas.

The event is meant to be fun and educational, with a variety of carnival games, musical performances, and lessons on dental hygiene catered to those with special needs. Student volunteers are exposed to this vulnerable segment of society and, with guidance from volunteer mentors, they learn that individuals with special needs don’t necessarily require specialized care in a specialized environment.



“We want to break down attitudinal barriers in training hygienists and dentists,” says Alicia Clancy, one of the U of T students that helped to organize this year’s event. While U of T continues to provide opportunities for patients and providers to engage in discussions on how to improve service, Sigal’s organization, OHTH, has expanded to include eleven chapters across Canada, thanks in large part to the passion and commitment of its many volunteer organizers.

Commitment to Universal Oral Health Care

OHTH remains committed to its’ mission to advocate, educate, and improve oral health care for persons with special needs. “Through a unified effort, we can live in a world where all persons regardless of their disabilities have universal access to oral health care,” says Sigal.

If you want to learn more about Sharing Smiles Day, please visit this link. If you’re interested in learning more about OHTH, or its’ founder, Dr. Alison Sigal, please click here.

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Posted by: DSR
Monday, March 2, 2015
Tag: Dental
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