State leads oral health screening program

HONOLULU — The Hawaii Department of Health, in collaboration with the Hawaii Children’s Action Network, Head Start Collaboration Office, and Hawaii Head Start and Early Head Start programs, is conducting a statewide oral health screening project, beginning this fall.

The project, which focuses on Hawaii keiki who are most at risk for cavities, builds upon the foundation set by the DOH’s Hawaii Smiles statewide third-grade screening project two years ago. The project will look at younger children and include an oral health screening for every child enrolled in the Head Start and Early Head Start programs.

Altogether, more than 2,970 children at more than 100 Head Start and Early Head Start sites statewide will have a dental screening in this school year. The health department will use this data on the oral health of these young children to inform the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and develop policies and programs to improve the oral health of children across Hawaii.

The Hawaii Smiles statewide screening team is composed of dentists and dental hygienists from the public and private sectors who will evaluate the extent of cavities in these children, provide oral health educational materials for parents and teachers, and offer recommendations for follow-up dental care.

“This project will allow us to better understand the patterns that surround dental decay in families and communities in our state,” said Dr. Gavin Uchida, DOH dental director. “On a community level, we know we must all do much more to improve the oral health of the residents of our state, and this information is foundational in helping us create the smartest, most effective plans for positive change.”

Previously, DOH issued the 2015/2016 Hawaii Smiles report, which validated that Hawaii’s third grade children have the highest prevalence of tooth decay in the nation. The baseline 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 findings from the Hawaii Smiles report were disappointing, but not surprising:

71 percent of third graders in Hawaii have tooth decay, which is higher than the national average of 52 percent;

22 percent of third graders have untreated tooth decay, indicating they are not receiving dental care;

About 7 percent of third graders are in need of urgent dental care because of pain or infection; and

There are significant oral health disparities by income as well as by race/ethnicity among third grade students in Hawaii.

“We are grateful that the HDS Foundation is being proactive and funding early solutions to Hawaii’s oral health problems,” said Deborah Zysman, executive director of the Hawaii Children’s Action Network. “These problems are often preventable when addressed in early childhood through screening, public education and outreach, and public policy. We are excited for the opportunity to make a difference in the health of Hawaii children.”

As part of the outreach efforts, parents and teachers will receive oral health educational materials and classroom supplies to reinforce the importance of good oral health to children.

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