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Department of Health Leads Statewide Oral Health Screening

Wayne Yoshioka

A statewide coalition of health professionals, educators, business and community representatives are teaming up to record oral health data in Hawai’i. HPR’s Wayne Yoshioka reports.

Two years ago, the state Department of Health, Hawai’i Smiles Report, confirmed that 71 percent of 3rd graders had tooth decay, nearly one third were untreated and 7 percent were in need of urgent dental care.  Today, a statewide oral health screening project is being launched to build on those findings.  Dr. Gavin Uchida is the Health Department’s Dental Director.

“Over the next 4 months we’re gonna be screening every child who’s enrolled in a Head Start or an Early Head Start Center and we’re looking in their mouths and looking and seeing with our own eyes what their rates of pathology are related to dental cavities.  And where areas in the state people are having treatment and kids are being seen and where they’re not being seen.”

Credit Wayne Yoshioka
Dental screening partners (L-R) Dr. Gavin Uchida, Dept of Health dental director; Hawai'i Children's Action Network executive director, Deborah Zysman; U.H. School of Nursing and Dental Hygiene assistant professor, Deborah Mattheus; HDS Foundation director, Shere Saneishi Kim; and first-year pediatric dental resident, Demi Pham.

Uchida says the data will used to educate lawmakers and help communities develop prevention strategies.   A total of 3-thousand Early Head Start and Head Start students from birth to age 5 will be participating in oral screening statewide.   The first location is The Towers at Kuhio Park with 100 students.

“Go Ahhh.  Really big.”

Demi Pham, a first year pediatric dentistry resident is doing the screening.  U-H School of Nursing and Dental Hygiene Assistant Professor, Deborah Mattheus, completes the diagnosis.

“This is Rea. She’s 3 years old.  And the dental exam showed she didn’t have any untreated decay, no arrested decay and no treated decay.  So the parents will get an information sheet that says that they had their screening today.  So she actually had urgency was none for follow-up treatment.”

The Hawai’i Children’s Action Network is coordinating the statewide project.  Deborah Zysman is the executive director.

“Teeth are life-long for your health.  We know that children, if you have oral health issues, it’s difficult to eat, you have problems with nutrition and children have difficulty in school if they’re having issues with their teeth.  Why we’re participating is, right now, we think that our children have really poor oral health but we don’t know much about it.”

Federal funding from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Hawai’i Dental Service Foundation will enable the coalition to complete the project.  Shere Saneishi Kim is the Foundation director.

“Our mission is to improve oral health in Hawai’i.  And so the foundation gave $137-thousand grant to the Hawai’i Children’s Action Network last year.  This one was $43-thousand to do the Head Start and Early Head Start, statewide.”

Meanwhile, State Dental Director Uchida says the 4-month study will provide useful data on dental decay and oral hygiene but it will be limited in terms of offering broad-based solutions.

“While dental cavities are purely preventable and they’re related to simply too much sugar consumption and not enough brushing, the factors that contribute to that, are social complex factors and it takes more than just a simple recipe to try to solve what’s ultimately a social, cultural and a lifestyle problem.”

For HPR News, I’m Wayne Yoshioka.

Wayne Yoshioka
Wayne Yoshioka is an award-winning journalist who has worked in television, print and radio in Hawaiʻi. He also has been on both sides of politics as a state departmental appointee and political/government reporter. He covered Hurricane Iwa (1982) as a TV reporter; was the State Department of Defense/Civil Defense spokesperson for Hurricane Iniki (1992); and, commanded a public affairs detachment in Afghanistan (2006). He has a master's degree in Communication from the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa and is a decorated combat veteran (Legion of Merit, Bronze Star and 22 other commendation/service medals). He resides in Honolulu.
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