Nothing to smile about

HONOLULU — The state’s keiki have the highest prevalence of tooth decay in the nation, according to a survey from the Hawaii Department of Health,

The problem, they say, is not lack of brushing and flossing.

Statewide, more than 60 percent of children in Hawaii do not have protective dental sealants, a cost-effective clinical intervention to prevent tooth decay in molars, according to a release from DOH.

Brent Ching, a pediatric dentist at Hawaii Family Dental Centers-Kukui Grove Kauai, said he has seen tooth decay in children as early as nine months old.

It can be corrected.

“If pediatric dentists do a great job limiting tooth decay to the baby teeth, there will be fewer disease for adults to deal with,” he said. “People need to speak up and advocate for their dentists for politicians to help them versus ignore or make poor policies that sway against them.”

The results were based on data collected from more than 3,000 third-grade students in 67 public elementary schools during the 2014-2015 school year, the release said.

On Kauai, nine elementary schools — Eleele, Hanalei, Kalaheo, Kapaa, King Kaumualii, Kekaha, Kilauea, Koloa and Elsie H. Wilcox — participated in the survey.

According to the data, students on the Garden Isle are more likely to have tooth decay than Oahu. For the 2014-2015 school year, 74 percent of third graders on Kauai experienced tooth decay. On Oahu, students with tooth decay was down to 68 percent.

Students on the Big Island and Maui are more likely to experience tooth decay, coming in at 77 and 76 percent respectively, according to the survey.

In general, most kids on the Kauai have some sort of tooth decay, said Shawn Murphy, who has a dental practice in Hanalei.

“There’s no fluoride in the water here, so teeth just gets soft,” he said.

Before moving to Kauai in 1995, Murphy worked for six years in California, where there was fluoride in the water.

“I noticed a big difference from day one,” he said. “It can be frustrating to see a kid with a lot of cavities.”

Whenever he sees a child, Murphy said he makes a point to prescribe or suggest fluoride vitamins.

“A little bit of fluoride makes for good teeth, and vitamin supplements are a good idea,” he said.

While the Kauai Department of Water does not add fluoride to the water, it’s a natural mineral that is found in Anahola, Hanapepe, Waimea and Kekaha, said Kimberly Tamaoka, spokeswoman for the DOW.

Because adding fluoride in the drinking water comes at a high price tag, the DOW does not plan to go that route, Tamaoka said.

The price of the project is unknown, but it involves installing new pump systems to all 75 storage tanks on the island, she added.

On Kauai, 39 percent of third graders had access to sealant, compared to 41 percent of students on Oahu.

Other findings include:

w More than 7 out of 10 third graders in Hawaii are affected by tooth decay. This is substantially higher than the national average of 52 percent.

w About 7 percent of Hawaii third grade children are in need of urgent dental care because of pain or infection.

w There are significant oral health disparities by income. Children from low-income families, as defined as those who are eligible for the National School Lunch Program, have a disproportionate amount of tooth decay. About 31 percent of children eligible for National School Lunch Program have untreated tooth decay compared to 13 percent who are not eligible.

“We recognize that everyone has an important role in improving and promoting oral health for children,” said Mark Yamakawa, president and chief executive officer of Hawaii Dental Service Foundation, which provided funding to underwrite the cost of the survey. “We are now partnering with the DOH and other nonprofit community organizations to improve the oral health of keiki in our community.”

On Kauai, Ching suggests starting the oral care regiment young.

“See a pediatric dentist by age one for an oral screening and education,” he said. “(It will) improve their oral health awareness.”


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