‘Ele‘ele students get smiles

‘ELE‘ELE — Converted into a dental office, students trooped in and out of the school library throughout the morning.

As the classes left, students clutched a bag filled with a new toothbrush, toothpaste and other dental-care goodies.

“This is the first time it’s been held on the outer islands,” Leila Nitta, principal for ‘Ele‘ele School, said. “Christy Tsukayama, our counselor, heard about it and asked if we could have it.”

Thus “Give Kids A Smile Day” — a national program — was born at ‘Ele‘ele School Friday.

Observed each year on the first Friday in February, the program kicks off National Children’s Dental Health Month.

Founded by the American Dental Association, the Smile Day focuses on providing oral heal education, preventive and restorative care to low-income children who do not have access to care.

In addition to helping low-income children get the dental care they need, the project highlights the on-going challenges that disadvantaged children and children with disabilities face in accessing dental care.

“This is a pilot project because it’s the first time it’s being done on Kaua‘i,” Nitta said. “I’m happy that we became involved because of the benefits it affords the students.”

According to a letter sent to parents from the dental offices of Hirano & Hirano D.D.S., close to 300 students age 4 to 9 will have free screenings and exams performed by volunteer dentists.

Dentists from the Kaua‘i County Dental Society and the Hawai‘i Dental Association Dental Samaritans included Dr. Stanwood Kanna, Dr. Shane Satta, Dr. Scott Shimabukuro, Dr. Cathy Tsunehiro, Dr. Timmy Hirano and Dr. Lisa Hirano.

The free dental kits were made possible through a corporate co-sponsor, Sullivan-Schein.

The dentists brought over some of their dental assistants to help move the students from an area where Hirano and Tsunehiro discussed the proper techniques for brushing and flossing.

Apo teamed up with HDA Dental Samaritans to work with children in ‘Ewa Beach and the Wai‘anae Coast on O‘ahu.

“This event is a great opportunity to affect real change in the state of oral health in our community by calling attention to the oral health epidemic and the need to educate families and improve access to dental care,” said Samaritan director Dr. Russell Masunaga. “We are grateful that the ‘Give Kids A Smile’ Program is committed to helping us help under-served communities by providing us with the dental and educational tools needed to make real changes.”

Last year, Smile Day served more than half a million children with more than 39,000 dental team members across the country participating.

“But there are hundreds of children who won’t be addressed,” Lisa Hirano said in her parent letter. “These children have pain everyday and have trouble eating, sleeping and paying attention in class because their teeth are in such bad shape.”

The president of the Kaua‘i County Dental Society said dentists want to be part of the solution, but need the help of lawmakers and politicians.

“‘Give Kids A Smile Day’ isn’t a cure-all, it’s a wake-up call,” Lisa Hirano said. “Our children deserve a better health care system that addresses their dental needs and will give them a healthy, happy smile.”

• Dennis Fujimoto, photographer and staff writer, can be reached at 245-3681 (ext. 253) or dfujimoto@kauaipubco.com.

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