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Dawn Oka and husband
Dawn Hillary Oka with her husband at the Mrs.United States National Pageant.

Dawn Hillary Oka, a 2018 graduate of the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa, was crowned the 2023 Mrs. Hawaii United States in August and competed in the Mrs. United States National Pageant in Memphis, Tennessee, in October, placing as first runner up. Oka, a registered dental hygienist working with the Hawaiʻi Keiki Program, earned her BS in dental hygiene and a minor in sociology in 2018.

mrs. hawaii dawn oka

During the national competition, which she described as “surreal,” Oka took home awards for Best Swimsuit and Best Evening Gown. Her personal platform, “Smiles for All,” focuses on tackling the problems of oral health through education and awareness to prevent systemic diseases, such as hypertension and heart disease, diabetes, Alzheimer’s disease, kidney disease, arthritis and more.

“It was an honor to be able to not just represent our state, but our dental community also!” said Oka. “Being in the dental field for nearly a decade now, I’ve seen first-hand that there is a local and nation-wide lack of accessible resources and knowledge outside of the dental office setting. By bringing something as simple as awareness and education to the table for both local and national competitions, I hope to make a difference one healthy smile at a time!”

Impactful childhood visits to the dentist

Oka, a Pearl City High School graduate, admits to always enjoying her visits to the dentist since childhood and hopes she can have that same impact on the children she serves through the Hawaiʻi Keiki Program. A partnership between the Nancy Atmospera-Walch School of Nursing (NAWSON) and the Hawaiʻi Department of Education, the program provides public school students throughout the state with access to no-cost nursing and dental hygiene services.

group of four women under tent
Oka promotes the Hawaiʻi Keiki program as Mrs. Hawaiʻi.

“I enjoy working for Hawaiʻi Keiki because I always enjoyed working with children. I feel like kids have that gift of teaching you something new everyday, whether it be about their trending current events or something within yourself,” said Oka, who travels to different schools on Oʻahu to see her patients.

In addition to helping public school keiki with their oral health, Oka works alongside her husband, a dentist who has his own practice in Kahala.

Oka said she feels fortunate to do what she does and credits her dental hygiene faculty at the UH Mānoa department of dental hygiene who challenged her to be the best professional she can be in her chosen career.

“I don’t think I’d still be so passionate about this field as I am now,” she said. “The one thing I’ll always hold on to and share with others is that life and your career is what you make of it; don’t be afraid to take the risk in being different and stepping out of comfort, especially if there’s a potential for growth.”

Spreading knowledge and aloha

As Mrs. Hawaii United States, Oka participates in various volunteer service activities around the island. She will continue to advocate for her platform in the community by facilitating collaborations between local dental hygienists and other healthcare providers to highlight the importance of oral health in treating the individual body as a whole, rather than different parts.

“I want to actively serve the younger generation, with hopes to implement a program where oral health education can be brought into school curriculums,” said Oka. “This is what Iʻm passionate about and Iʻm grateful the United States National Pageant is providing me with the platform to serve my community.”

—by Arlene Abiang

group of dental hygiene students
Oka (top row, second from right) with her UH Mānoa dental hygiene cohort.
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