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child with a dental provider
A child receives a dental screening from an oral health provider.

In recognition of National Children’s Dental Health Month, nurses and dental health providers with the Hawaiʻi Keiki—Hawaiʻi Dental Service (HDS) Dental Sealant Program are reminding parents of the importance of oral health and encourage them to take their child to the dentist. No-cost dental screenings are also available to keiki attending Hawaiʻi Department of Education (HIDOE) public schools on Oʻahu, Maui and Kauaʻi.

Nearly 2,000 public school keiki have received dental screenings through the program since 2019. Of those keiki, more than half (61%) needed and received dental sealants, indicating a high-need for school-based health services programs that address oral health.

Dental sealants are a quick and an easy way to prevent cavities. However, despite the high-need and benefits, it is reported that more than 60% of children statewide do not have dental sealants.

“The program is an important first step in improving oral health outcomes for our keiki,” said Deborah Mattheus, Hawaiʻi Keiki-HDS Dental Sealant program director, who is also an associate professor of nursing at the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa. “It’s not unusual for keiki to miss school due to dental pain, which not only limits their ability to eat and speak, but also reduces their overall quality of life. Thanks to the generous support of Hawaiʻi Dental Services Foundation, school-based health programs like ours can offer a solution by providing dental sealants directly to school campuses and at no-cost to families.”

Expanding services

For the past three years, the Hawaiʻi Keiki—HDS Dental Sealant Program has experienced rapid growth to address the high-need for dental sealants in the state by providing screenings and sealants to 2nd and 3rd grade keiki at HIDOE Title 1 schools. In 2019, the program was piloted on Oʻahu and screened 106 keiki. Now in its third year, the program screened 869 keiki in the fall 2022 semester and has expanded from Oʻahu to Maui and Kauaʻi.

Since 2019, the program has:

  • hosted 90 dental sealant events at HIDOE schools on Oʻahu, Maui and Kauaʻi;
  • conducted 1,821 dental screenings for 2nd and 3rd grade students;
  • provided sealants for 1,118 students at no cost to families;
  • applied dental sealants to 3,813 teeth;
  • and identified 67 keiki that needed urgent dental care and connected them with services.

“Our growth would also not have been possible without having an interprofessional team of dentists, dental hygienists, nurses and support staff,” Mattheus said.

Partnership to support student oral health

The Hawaiʻi Keiki—HDS Dental Sealant Program collaborates with HIDOE to identify high-need elementary schools that would benefit from dental sealant days. The program brings licensed dentists and dental hygienists directly to the school, eliminating barriers that families may experience accessing oral healthcare. Hawaiʻi Keiki nurses provide critical assistance in coordination with school teachers and staff and assist during the visit.

child receives a screening from a dental health provider

During the visits, dental sealants are applied on the keiki’s teeth to help prevent cavities and tooth decay. The sealants are thin clear or white plastic coatings that are simply applied with a brush on the child’s teeth. The sealant application protects the dips and grooves on the top of teeth to keep food and bacteria from causing cavities. The application process only takes a few minutes to apply then dry and harden. After the sealants are applied, participating students receive a goodie bag provided by HDS, which includes a free toothbrush, toothpaste, floss and educational material.

The Hawaiʻi Keiki Program is a partnership between the UH Mānoa Nancy Atmospera-Walch School of Nursing and HIDOE that provides access to school nursing services in Hawaiʻi public schools.

For more go to the Hawaiʻi Keiki—Hawaiʻi Dental Services webpage.

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