LIHUE — Kaimana Goo left Kauai in 2001. She recently returned with the gift of a smile.
“I love Kauai. I always wanted to come back, but I just basically wanted to figure out something that was needed in the community,” Goo said.
As the first dentist in her family, Goo returned to Kauai in August and has offices at Kilauea and Hanalei Dental.
“I feel so lucky to be from here, and it’s amazing because sometimes when you grow up here you don’t really realize how the people, how friendly everybody is and the island culture, just how lucky we are to be here,” Goo said.
Goo growing up enjoyed spending time in the sand and sun with her mother, father, siblings and her grandparents whose rice mill flourished in Kalihiwai Valley. She remembers the wonderful time she spent with her family, selling leis and flowers at the Kalihiwai Lookout.
“We made a little trail up to the road, and we’d strung leis, plumeria leis and we’d weave lauhala baskets, make little fish that dangled and little hats,” she said. “So that was a lot of fun up there.”
Goo also developed a love for music. She attended Williams College in Massachusetts on a full scholarship, majoring in the art.
“My mom just wanted me to experience something completely different than Hawaii,” Goo said. “She wanted me to experience the changing of the seasons and just a whole different culture.”
However, it wasn’t until Goo returned to Kauai that she knew dentistry was her true calling.
Goo spoke with Kauai’s high schools to see if they needed music teachers, no positions were available.
After she received a position at Limahuli Gardens, Goo became involved with the community and discovered many needs — including the need for a dentist.
Goo decided to give dentistry a try, so she moved to the Big Island in 2007 and took science courses at the University of Hawaii at Hilo. She landed a position as a dental assistant.
“I did that for a year, and I just absolutely loved it,” Goo said.“I loved the patient connection. A lot of people are very scared to see the dentist. I have lots of people telling me that they don’t like coming to see us, and I totally understand that but I like soothing people’s fears and trying to make them feel comfortable.”
It was through her work as a dental assistant that Goo knew she wanted to become a dentist.
“I love working with people, and I get to do that everyday,” she said.
Goo took dentistry courses at the University of Hawaii at Manoa for a year. She then attended the Arizona School of Dentistry and Oral Health in 2010.
“I chose that dental school because they have an emphasis in public health and community health — not just learning the dental profession,” Goo said.
Goo holds on to many memorable experiences through her time with ASDOH, including traveling to Eugene, Oregon, to work with the homeless in a community health center.
“I remember the people there were just so grateful of everything,” Goo said. “We would have people come in and basically, most of it was just extracting teeth, but the patients there were just the most grateful, thankful patients.”
People were also fitted with dentures and would often come back to thank the dentists since they were able to find jobs, housing and simply eat again, Goo said.
“Working with that population was just really eye opening, and it was just a really amazing experience making such a great change in people’s live,” she said.
Goo graduated from the school in 2013 with a master’s degree in public health in addition to her dental degree. She remained in Arizona for a year to do in-advanced general dentistry residency, which gave her more exposure to complex patients, placing implants and performing advanced surgeries.
Goo completed her residency in Arizona last year and is excited to be back home in the islands.
“You really appreciate it, I think, once you’ve been away,” she said. “It’s actually really cool to be back and seeing people I’ve known my whole life and sometimes I see them in the dental chair.”