In an effort to provide oral health services for students who need it, the Hawaii State Department of Education (HIDOE) and the Hawaii Dental Association (HDA) are joining forces. The agencies have established a Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) to promote oral health by teaching students proper dental hygiene techniques and providing information about access to free dental health services.
Dentists will be visiting HIDOE first and second grade classes on Oahu, Maui, Kauai and Hawaii Island from Jan. 16-Feb. 28, 2017, which coincides with National Children's Dental Health Month in February.
"When students do not get the health care they need we find that it affects their performance in school. This partnership is a huge step to provide services to many children who are not getting proper oral healthcare," said Superintendent Kathryn Matayoshi. "As we work towards closing the achievement gap, we must look at the whole child and that includes their experiences outside of the classroom. We're grateful to the Hawaii Dental Association for making this opportunity available for students."
In October, the Hawaii Department of Health released "Hawaii Smiles," a statewide report that showed a need for oral health improvement for Hawaii's children. A few of the key findings included:
- More than 7 out of 10 third graders (71 percent) are affected by tooth decay;
- About 7 percent of Hawaii third grade children are in need of urgent dental care because of pain or infection;
- 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).
These efforts are also part of a national initiative from the American Dental Association to bring preventative education and dental services to underserved children, which include 92,000 economically disadvantaged public school students in Hawaii.
"The goal of this partnership is to educate children from a young age on the importance of proper dental care. We also want to raise awareness about services that provide free dental care so their families can encourage and foster these new habits," shared Melissa Pavlicek, president, Hawaii Public Policy Advocates who coordinated the MOA on behalf of HDA.
In ensuring that students come to school healthy and ready to learn, Superintendent Matayoshi has made the health and wellbeing of public school students a priority. She has worked on other innovative partnerships and programs that range from proper nutrition to healthcare access. In 2014, HIDOE launched the "Hawaii Keiki" program with the University of Hawaii at Manoa. The program builds school based health services that screen for treatable health conditions; help prevent and control communicable disease and other health problems; and provide emergency care for illness or injury.