Dental Students Celebrate Week of Inclusion

Spread the Word—a global engagement campaign that empowers leaders and peers to strive towards inclusion—is the inspiration behind the Week of Inclusion.

Students and faculty wear blue to show support for inclusion during the Week of Inclusion. (Samantha Sheppard photo)

Last week, the UConn School of Dental Medicine Special Care Dentistry Interest Group (SCDIG) hosted their annual Week of Inclusion to show support, learn, and discuss the importance of inclusion and connection for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities in dentistry.

Spread the Word—a global engagement campaign that empowers leaders and peers to strive towards inclusion—is the inspiration behind the Week of Inclusion. The theme for this year was Going All [In]clusive.

To honor this year’s theme, the students planned activities that anyone could participate in to help expand their reach to other departments within UConn Health and the UConn School of Dental Medicine.

“Through our interactive and engaging posts on social media, our ASL Workshop, and our yearly initiative to sign a pledge, and having everyone wear blue to show their support for the cause, we have gained a lot more awareness in creating an inclusive environment for treating patients with Special Healthcare Needs,” said Barbara Shehata, third-year student and president of the SCDIG.

“We are grateful for all of the students, faculty and staff that participated in inclusion week! It is crucial as future dental providers that we learn to accommodate all patients and would not be able to cultivate these skills without their positivity and support,” said Caroline Thomas, third-year dental student and vice president of the SCDIG.

The students organized several events and activities, including a “Wear Blue” day to show support for inclusion, a campaign that encouraged students to sign the “Spread the Word” inclusivity pledge, an American Sign Language workshop, and a social media advocacy day to encourage others to share inclusivity resources from the SCDIG’s social media pages. The students also distributed resources for treating patients with special health care needs via email.

“We are so happy with the participation we received this year for the Week of Inclusion,” said Sierra Furey, second-year dental student and social chair. “It is so important to learn about the special health care needs community, so we are better equipped to treat this population in the future. We hope this week got students excited and committed to being inclusive in their own practices one day.”

At the end of the week, the students posted a sign outside both dental clinics as a statement showing that the dental school is dedicated to fostering an inclusive environment for patients with special healthcare needs.

UConn School of Dental Medicine is committed to providing inclusive, high-quality dental care to patients with special healthcare needs during which they feel comfortable and safe, the sign reads.

Samantha Sheppard (left) and Barbara Shehata (right) unveil the pledge to inclusion poster. (Sierra Furey photo)

“This week showed us how our dental clinic and dental school abundantly support the message of inclusion,” said Samantha Sheppard, third-year student and treasurer. “Patients with special healthcare needs (SHCN) often have more unmet dental needs due to multiple barriers to care that they face. Our goal for the week was to encourage everyone who is involved in patient care to advocate for this population and continuously educate themselves on ways to support the SHCN community. We are all capable of making an impact through our care!”

The UConn School of Dental Medicine SCDIG seeks to build capability, capacity, and commitment to serving patients who require special care using integrated skills through educating students about patients with a wide range of disabilities and special needs. The students also regularly participate in the Special Olympics Connecticut Healthy Athletes Special Smiles program to provide screening and preventive dental services to the adult and children athletes with special needs.

“We are so happy with the turnout in participation for everyone in the dental school. I also wanted to give a huge shout out to the Inclusivity Committee and their commitment to making it happen. Without all their hard work and dedication, this initiative wouldn’t have made such a massive impact on our school community,” said Shehata.