Children in Hawai‘i have the highest prevalence of dental decay in the nation, according to a 2015 state Department of Health report. Statewide, 71 percent of Hawai‘i’s third-graders experienced tooth decay, 22 percent had untreated tooth decay, and 7 percent needed urgent dental care, compared to the national rate of 1 percent.
The UH Maui College Dental Hygiene Program and the UH Mānoa School of Nursing and Dental Hygiene with support from the Hawaii Dental Service (HDS) Foundation are leading various outreach efforts to improve oral health outcomes for Hawai‘i’s keiki. These efforts are focused on providing treatment and education in elementary schools on Maui, Moloka‘i, Lāna‘i and O‘ahu, focusing on underserved communities.
UH Maui’s dental hygiene students prepared lessons in the Smiles for Maui program, targeting three Title I schools. These future dental hygienists brought tooth-brushing kits for schoolchildren—toothbrushes, toothbrush covers, toothpaste, floss picks, and individual bags for keeping kits together—providing age-appropriate instruction on oral care for daily, dedicated toothbrushing time in school. Follow-up visits by dental hygiene students offered reinforcement for students and troubleshooting for teachers.
UH Mānoa’s Hawai‘i Keiki program’s mission is to keep keiki healthy and ready to learn by providing access to school nursing services in Hawai′i’s public schools. It recently added oral healthcare services, offering assessments and dental sealants in Title I Department of Education public schools. Families of participating students received assessment reports, referrals and oral care kits, and students needing urgent care received referrals to community dental service providers.
HDS Foundation has generously supported UH’s oral health outreach efforts since 2002. This long history of partnership has helped to recruit and train dental hygienists to serve our communities while improving access to oral health services for all Hawai‘i’s children.