Dr. Russell Masunaga gave Dole Head Start student Tiarelyn Kaleiwahea a free dental exam yesterday as part of a nationwide effort to help kids with limited access to dental care.

Head Start kids
brush up on hygiene

Volunteers give free dental exams
to more than 300 Oahu kids

By Helen Altonn

More than 300 Oahu Head Start children, ages 3 to 5, received free oral health screens yesterday as part of a nationwide program that served millions of kids.

The theme was "Give Kids a Smile," and it seemed to work as the children ran around showing off their teeth with big grins after visiting dentists at the Boys and Girls Clubs in Honolulu, Ewa and Waianae. They were bused to the clubs in groups from Palolo, Dole and Royal Head Start Centers for National Children's Dental Access Day.

The Hawaii Dental Association's Dental Samaritans provided free oral health screenings and dental hygiene information to the children as part of Children's Dental Health Month.

Millions of children with limited access to dental care were screened by participating dentists across the country.

"Overall, the state has pretty good health care for children," said Dr. Russell Masunaga, co-founder of the Dental Samaritans in 2001 with Dr. George Wessberg.

However, an Oral Health 2001 study by the Hawaii Primary Care Association found Hawaii's children have nearly twice as much tooth decay as the national average.

Most families have dental coverage through private or state QUEST plans, but they do not know how to access the system, Masunaga said.

Masunaga volunteered at the Waiola Street club in McCully yesterday with Drs. Brent Ching and Paul Tanaka. Wessberg, now director of the Dental Samaritans, was at the Ewa club with other dentists. The Samaritans include about 60 dentists who provide low-income children and adults with dental services at nonprofit clinics.

Dr. Edmund Cassella, Hawaii Dental Association president, said pediatric dentists have identified a chronic infection called "early childhood caries" as the chief cause of high tooth decay in island children.

He urged parents to get an oral checkup for their infants before their first birthday and twice a year thereafter. The same is recommended for older children and adults.

The Head Start children took home packets of toothpaste, toothbrushes, dental floss and, for their parents, tips for healthy teeth. They also carried notes from the dentists and dental hygienists recommending follow-up care and referrals to their regular dentists, if necessary.

Jennifer Ernst, Oahu Head Start hygienist, said the teachers will track the children to make sure the recommendations are followed.


SmileFest offers isle kids
free fluoride treatments

Star-Bulletin staff

Free fluoride treatments and toothbrushes will be given to kids as long as supplies last at SmileFest 2003, a community dental fair from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. today at Honolulu Zoo.

Hawaii Family Dental Centers and Meadow Gold Dairies Hawaii are sponsoring the event to raise awareness of children's dental health. The Dental Centers are providing the fluoride and toothbrushes, and Meadow Gold will offer free food samples.

There will also be entertainment and free fresh vegetables from Aloun Farms, Keiki Print by the Honolulu Police Department, rides, activities, face painting, tattooing and more.

Anyone with an empty Meadow Gold or Viva brand half-gallon milk carton will be admitted free. Additional parking will be available at Kapiolani Community College with free shuttle service to and from the zoo.

E-mail to City Desk


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