ROD THOMPSON / RTHOMPSON@STARBULLETIN.COM
Iowa dentist Richard Burke provided free dental work for Waimea Elementary School first-grader Vince Cui on Monday, assisted by Petra Reinhart. Burke and four other Iowa dentists are doing volunteer work on the Big Island this week in two dental vans operated by the nonprofit Mobile Care Health Project.
Big Isle kids say aaaaah ...
Five Iowa dentists spend a week on the Big Isle treating children
WAIMEA, Hawaii » When former Big Island school Vice Principal Elaine Himadi suggested University of Iowa dental students do volunteer work with Big Island children, she didn't have to explain the need.
"They already knew about it," she said.
Children's dental health in Hawaii is known to be "among the worst" in the nation, said University of Iowa dentist Dr. Bryce Goebel. Hawaii is known as the only state entirely without water fluoridation for teeth protection.
This week, four dentists getting advanced degrees in children's dentistry, plus Richard Burke, chief professor of children's dentistry at the Iowa university, are volunteering in two dental vans.
From Monday through today, they have been parked at Waimea Elementary School. Tomorrow and Friday, they will be at the Catholic Church of the Annunciation in Waimea.
Each of the 40-foot Mobile Care vans they are using has two dental chairs with associated equipment. The vans are operated by the Catholic Church's Office for Social Ministry and St. Francis Healthcare System.
The value of dentists' services is $25,000, said Mobile Care administrator Kaye Lundburg.
In Mobile Care's 10 years on the Big Island, this is the first time that an entire week has been devoted to children's dentistry, she said.
The reason is to help children with "moderate to critical tooth decay" and little or no health insurance, Lundburg said. Mobile Care has "often" seen children as young as 4 with 10 cavities, she said.
Just in his first morning working on three children, dentist Bob Gregorsok saw a 10-year-old child with five cavities, he said. In five days, the Iowa dentists hope to treat about 70 children, Lundburg said.
Himadi, who is also a children's doctor, knew about the problem when she was an administrator at Waimea Intermediate School in 2003-2004. She had students who were absent because of dental pain. Others would come to school but couldn't study because of pain, she said.
Waimea Elementary Principal Marcy McClelland said students still come to the office "day after day" complaining of pain. "We can't give them anything except ice," she said.
There is only one dentist on the Big Island who will take new Medicaid patients, Lundburg said. "No dentist on the island will see a child under the age of 6" without insurance, she said.
The solution for children covered by state Quest insurance is to fly the child to a dentist on Oahu, she said.
That's part of the difference between Hawaii and the mainland. "In Iowa, you can drive to get to a dentist," Himadi said.