Friday, September 23, 2005

Onofre Alabanza received a dental exam by Dr. Russell Masunaga in his apartment yesterday.

Delivering smiles

Volunteer dentists give checkups
to Meals on Wheels' elderly
and disabled clients

Dental Samaritans are spreading out across Oahu this month to "Give Kupuna a Smile."

Give Kupuna a Smile

Hawaii Meals on Wheels: Call 988-6747 or see www.hmow.org
Dental Samaritans: Call 848-8880.

The Hawaii Dental Association volunteers have joined with Hawaii Meals on Wheels to provide free dental exams and products to homebound elderly and disabled clients.

Onofre Alabanza, 45, of Kinau Street, was grateful when Dr. Russell Masunaga found a small cavity in his upper right teeth yesterday. Alabanza said his right side is paralyzed because of a brain injury and stroke after someone struck his head from behind when he was a teenager in the Philippines.

"Simple problems can turn into major problems," Masunaga told him, encouraging a visit to his own dentist.

The Hawaii Dental Service provided a $9,500, two-year grant to fund free volunteer dental screenings for Meals on Wheels clients and referrals for further dental care.

"We're trying to work on a preventive level, to identify problems before they become serious," said Masunaga, director of the Dental Samaritans and spokesman for the Dental Association.

He said 17 dentists began tagging along with Meals on Wheels volunteers in February, giving dental exams and supplies to homebound residents.

They have continued to volunteer throughout the year, he said, explaining the program is a clearinghouse for dentists who want to volunteer their services for children, older people or Special Olympics.

Drs. Eric Tinhan and Russell Tabata joined Masunaga yesterday in visiting 21 Hawaii Meals on Wheels clients.

"We're seeing not so much that these people can't go see a dentist, but it's inconvenient to ask someone to take them to a dentist," Masunaga said.

"What they need is to have a dentist look at a denture, a spot in the mouth or a tooth and say, 'You need to have this taken care of.' A lot of people have a dentist, but five years go by without seeing the dentist."

In February, the dentists saw a patient who hadn't had his teeth checked in 25 years, Masunaga said, stressing that a tooth problem, mouth lesion or ill-fitting dentures can be hazardous to a person's health.

Chloe Heiniemi, Meals on Wheels program coordinator, said the program has grown in several years from 20 to 34 routes, with 350 volunteers delivering 250 to 300 meals per day.

Heiniemi said the contribution by the Dental Samaritans "is absolutely wonderful ... and we've had good response from our clients wanting the service.

"It's a great way for our clients to get health care in an area that's needed," she said. It also provides medical attention for economically disadvantaged clients, she said.

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