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  • Writer's pictureTAREK KASSEM

New Club Spotlight: Sports Dentistry - Elianne Vasquez ('21)

“We treat the NBA Miami Heat, the University of Miami (UM) Hurricanes, and the Florida International University (FIU) Panthers,” was the casual comment the office manager made to me when I started shadowing as a prospective employee at Sunset Dentistry in the summer of 2016. This was the first time I had heard of the term “Sports Dentistry,” and little did I know how greatly it would impact my dental career. It had all started with Dr. Richard Mariani, Sr., who had taken over the dental care of the tennis athletes at his alma mater, the University of Miami, after the passing of their previous team dentist. His scope of care progressively expanded over to other athletic teams on campus, and through word-of-mouth and referral, Dr. Mariani and later his partners, Drs. Robinson and Leyte, became the official Team Dentists for UM, FIU, the Major League Baseball Florida Marlins, and the Heat.

Quickly I started to get a better understanding of what sports dentistry was about. A few weeks into working at Sunset Dentistry, I participated in the office’s annual mouthguard night at UM and FIU. The office team and I packed into our cars with exam kits, gloves, masks, and impression trays, material, and dispensers en route to the athletic training centers on campus. Collectively, we screened, took impressions for, and fabricated custom-made mouthguards for over 100 incoming athletes that season. Often, athletes would come into the office to either receive dental care that would clear them to play that season, on an emergency basis for sports-related injuries, or for another protective mouthguard. Providing care to these athletes, many of which had not been to the dentist in years if not ever, was not only about treating chipped or knocked-out teeth; it was an opportunity to learn about their backgrounds, educate them and the athletic community on healthy oral hygiene practices and prevention of dental injuries, and potentially make an impact on the success of these professional sports teams going forward.

Truly, everything starts with an idea, and sometimes a little bit of luck. Dr. Mariani had already mentioned the idea of me starting a Sports Dentistry Club in dental school in order to increase awareness about this field, but when he found out I was accepted into the UCLA School of Dentistry, he connected me with his colleague and Team Dentist for the LA Lakers, LA Galaxy, and UCLA Athletics, Dr. Ray Padilla. Having this support system and friends in the dental school who were eager to help move this idea forward, I knew the ball had to get rolling. In the summer of 2018, the Sports Dentistry Club had its game plan to become an official organization, a set of key players, and the privilege of being coached by Dr. Padilla.

The goal of the game? To explore the cross-link between sports and dentistry and educate the community on the prevention and management of orofacial trauma injuries, serve the community, and have fun in the process. SDC aims to show how all and any dental specialties, from Endo to Oral Surgery to Pediatrics, can play a role in the care of athletes and basically anyone who participates in sports for leisure. Beyond that, we aim to shed light on the role of nutrition and oral health in the sports community as well as the need for greater attention and access to care in the special needs population. Past and future programs for the organization include lecture series from local team and pediatric dentists on mouthguard protection, trauma and concussion treatment, dental considerations for the athlete and special needs patient, mouthguard fabrication and suturing workshops, and charity sports tournaments.

In the realm of service, for the first time since 2015, SDC was able to represent UCLA School of Dentistry students by volunteering at the Southern California Special Olympics 2018 Fall Championship Games. There we learned that Healthy Athletes, an initiative run by the Special Olympics that offers athletes access to free health screenings and health information during local and international competitions, all started with the need to treat an special needs athlete’s dental complication. Our field of community involvement also encompasses Team Smile, an advocacy group that partners oral health professionals with high-profile sports teams to provide free dental care and education to underserved pediatric communities.

All in all, Sports Dentistry is more than a mouthguard; it has unlimited opportunities to expand the field’s paradigm beyond direct care, shape how we view and participate in sports in the future, and inspire every dentist to make sports dentistry a part of their practice whether or not they work with a team. It’s been a ball watching SDC grow, and we can’t wait to keep knocking it out of the ballpark!

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