Sharing Smiles Day was a fun night full of activities that occurred on Nov. 22. This event had festivities such as: bingo, Zumba, hockey, coloring pages and cookie decorating to keep the crowd smiling. Photo credit: Joshua Ambar

Special Olympics athlete, Michael Guyton, attended the Sharing Smiles Day on Nov. 22 at St. Pius X High School with the intention of enjoying the festival and having a good time.

Guyton has been an athlete for the Special Olympics since 2014 and participates in track and field, bocce, basketball, snowshoeing and 5-pin bowling.

“It’s important to always take care of your teeth,” said Guyton about the event’s main message. “I am feeling pretty good.”

The school’s cafeteria was transformed into an activity hall featuring Zumba lessons, bingo and cookie decorating for members of Ottawa’s special need’s community. The dance floor was packed with the attendees dancing the night away as others enjoyed playing hockey near the entrance on the event.

For those who didn’t or were unable to dance, there were quieter activities too that was in keeping the events theme: tables were covered with colouring pages of dental friendly characters, and 3D models of teeth sat beside toothbrushes so the crowd could practice their brushing skills.

This event was Sharing Smiles Day, which started at Algonquin in 2012 with the dental hygiene group and Oral Health Total Health.

Dr. Alison Sigal founded OHTH back in 2008, when she was a first-year dental student from the University of Toronto. Today, OHTH continues to advocate to reach different faculties of dentistry and hygiene programs from colleges across the country.

The non-profit organization helps promote oral health to people in communities with special needs and break down the barrier between dental professionals and people with disabilities.

OHTH has “chapters” across the country where each school of dentistry hosts their own events within their community to spread awareness and equality of oral care.

Lisa O’Connor, dental hygiene instructor at Algonquin, started Sharing Smiles Day after Christian Horizons, a non-profit, faith-based charitable organization, told her their idea for the event. O’Connor is immersed in the community of people with special needs as her son has down syndrome and saw this as a personal volunteer experience.

“I am connected to the community,” said O’Connor.

O’Connor said that pretty much the entire class of 2012 volunteered and wanted to give it a try.

Gabriella Meroli Assad, an instructor in the dental clinic at the college, was one of the first students to volunteer during the first debut of Sharing Smiles Day. With no experience in dealing with people with special needs she saw this as a great opportunity to practice for the real world.

“I felt that I was very lucky to be apart of this, as it was my first dental volunteer experience,” said Assad.

She described the first event as gratifying and uplifting, having activities such as dance parties and hockey, similar to this year’s events. She remembers the event so clearly that it drove her back to volunteer.

“It’s a priceless opportunity,” said Assad.

For third-year dental hygiene student, Amber Atkins, this is her second year participating. She enjoys her time volunteering because Sharing Smiles creates an environment of professionals and special needs people to get them more comfortable with people in the industry. Atkins wanted them to come out and enjoy themselves because they don’t always have these fun opportunities.

“They can be more comfortable and have a really fun night,” said Atkins.