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Deborah Mattheus is the oral health champion for Hawaiʻi.

An associate professor with the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa School of Nursing and Dental Hygiene (SONDH) will lead Hawaiʻi in a nationwide initiative to improve oral health.

Deborah Mattheus has been selected as one of the first six Oral Health State Champions as part of the Center for Integration of Primary Care and Oral Health (CIPCOH) 100 Million Mouths Campaign (100 MMC). The campaign is working with six pilot states to develop blueprints to rollout in other states, and aims to positively impact the oral health of 100 million mouths over the next 10 years. Hawaiʻi will serve as a model for future 100 MMC states.

CIPCOH chose Hawaiʻi to participate due to its oral health needs. About 60% of elementary school students in Hawaiʻi have experienced dental cavities, which is around 20% above the national average, according to CIPCOH. In addition, 24% of adults in the state have lost six or more teeth to decay or disease, and 101,000 residents live in a dental shortage area. Through the 100 MMC, the goal is to improve oral health by enhancing its integration into primary care.

“Most people do not take their kids to the dentist until they are 2 years old or older,” Mattheus said. “However, they will see their pediatrician. It is up to the primary care provider to teach families about oral hygiene, to prescribe fluoride, and to integrate oral health education into each child’s visit. Baby teeth are important for overall health and secondary teeth. The mouth is part of and should be included in discussions about their overall health.”

Integrating oral health into curricula

To help achieve this goal, Mattheus will be working with health profession schools to incorporate oral health into their curricula. She has free resources available to these schools with ready-made educational materials, such as online modules, to help make it as easy as possible for them to incorporate.

At SONDH, Mattheus has already begun the effort. Along with Assistant Professor Rick Ramirez, they have created a doctor of nursing practice (DNP) workshop teaching students about oral health and how to apply fluoride varnish to a child. As the state champion of the 100 MMC, Mattheus is available to assist other nursing programs across the state, and can provide similar workshops upon request.

Mattheus is a pioneer in improving the oral health of Hawaiʻi children through SONDH, the Hawaiʻi Keiki program and other leadership positions. She serves on the Hawaiʻi Oral Health Coalition Leadership Team, with a focus on prevention and access. Presently, she is leading federal and locally funded efforts to improve the oral health of children including applying dental sealants in the public elementary schools.

“No matter your age, race, education or income, everyone in Hawaiʻi deserves a healthy smile,” Mattheus said. “This can be achieved by: 1. Providing oral health education in various health care settings (primary care offices; dental clinics; long-term care facilities; hospitals; OB-GYN clinic; Women, Infants and Children program (WIC); etc.) delivered by medical, dental and various other community providers, and 2. Creating equal access to oral health services that can be delivered both in primary care settings as well as in traditional dental settings.”

Mattheus said the first step is to educate current and future health care providers on the importance of oral health and its relationship to overall health. The next step is to give providers the resources and tools to make this transition successful and sustainable in the practice setting.

For inquiries about the 100 MMC, contact Deborah Mattheus at

This effort is an example of UH Mānoa’s goal of Enhancing Student Success (PDF), one of four goals identified in the 2015–25 Strategic Plan (PDF), updated in December 2020.

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