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Free health exams for Vermont Special Olympics athletes - WCAX.COM Local Vermont News, Weather and Sports-

Free health exams for Vermont Special Olympics athletes

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BURLINGTON, Vt. -

Around 600 athletes were at the University of Vermont for the Special Olympics summer games Saturday.

Natasha Picknell and her team, The Caledonia Hornets, were ready to hit the basketball courts.

"I actually loved it. We won. This is the second time. It's very fun. It's really aggressive, but we can do it. I love being with a team that I really love and really know," said 16-year-old Picknell.

The big awards are presented Sunday, but there's one prize competitors can earn before the games even begin.

A program called Special Smiles gives each athlete a medal if they complete a free dental screening.

"What's important about it is many of our athletes really don't have access to the best health care, and even if they do have access to good health care, perhaps they don't go as regularly as they should," said Lisa DeNatale, Special Olympics Vermont president & CEO.

Dentists and dental students work with the athletes to provide exams and teach them the basics of oral health.

"We're taking a look inside their mouths and evaluating, but it's not, you know, you don't have the clinical setting. You don't have the formality that a dental office can often have, so it just makes it easier and keeps it a lot more fun for them," said Cassie Coakley, a dentist.

Coakley is also the mother to one of the athletes.

Event organizers say it's also a great way for dental students to get experience working with special athletes.

"So today we have over 20 dental students from the New England Dental school up visiting, and they not only get to see Vermont on a rainy day, but they also get to see and get exposed to special athletes and that particular population, so they're not intimidated by them when they start practicing," said Vaughn Collins, the executive director of the Vermont State Dental Society.

Dental screenings are one of several free health exams offered at the Vermont Special Olympics.

Other screenings include ear and eye health, all of which make sure athletes are ready to perform at their best.

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