Dentists agree that state fails to serve low-income children


POSTED: Thursday, February 25, 2010

A failing grade for Hawaii in a Pew Center report on dental care for low-income children reflects the state government's “;very poor job in promoting dental health for Hawaii's underserved children,”; says Dr. Craig Mason, Hawaii Dental Association president.

“;Fortunately, that task has been shouldered by the dental community,”; said the Kailua dentist, describing an array of activities by the association and other organizations to provide access to dental care for children.

“;Even though the state may get a very poor grade in this area, our underserved children in Hawaii are getting better care than children in many other parts of the country,”; he said.

Hawaii was one of nine states getting an “;F”; grade in the Pew report: “;The Cost of Delay: State Dental Policies Fail One in Five Children.”; February is National Children's Dental Health Month.

States were scored on how well they address eight policy solutions to ensure dental health and access to care for the nation's disadvantaged children. The policies fall into these categories: cost-effective ways to help prevent problems from occurring in the first place; Medicaid improvements enabling more dentists to treat disadvantaged children; new work force models to increase the number of qualified dental providers; and gathering data to assess progress and improve performance.





        Dr. Wesley Odani, who has been practicing pediatric dentistry in Hono-lulu since 1969, urges parents to take their children to the dentist by age 1 or as soon as the baby teeth start to come in:

Do's and don't's:


» Do: Take an active role in a child's dental care. “;They can't do it alone,”; says Odani. “;They need help.”;


» Don't: Let your toddler fall asleep with a juice bottle in his or her mouth.




Earning “;A”; grades were Connecticut, Iowa, Maryland, New Mexico, Rhode Island and South Carolina. Hawaii, Arkansas, Delaware, Florida, New Jersey, Louisiana, Pennsylvania, West Virginia and Wyoming each received an “;F”; for meeting only one or two policy benchmarks.

Hawaii's failing grade “;didn't come as a surprise to anybody who deals with dentistry for the underserved population and the state's role in that,”; Mason said.

Last year's dismantling of the state Health Department's Dental Hygiene Branch with 11 layoffs “;was a huge loss to the community, but that had nothing to do with the Pew report,”; he said, pointing out the data was gathered before layoffs.

He said the dental association and other groups have sought legislation unsuccessfully to address the Pew report benchmarks. Community water fluoridation “;is a huge one,”; he said. “;It is the most cost-effective way of improving dental health, not just of children but of everyone in the state of Hawaii.”;

Tax incentives, loan forgiveness and other types of legislative actions also have been proposed unsuccessfully to attract more dentists to underserved areas, he said, adding: “;Many wonderful things are going on in the community to help the access problems, but the state government is doing nothing about it.”;

The association's charitable arm, the Dental Samaritans, which sponsors “;Give Kids A Smile,”; is one example of activities to improve dental care for underserved children, he said.

Dr. Russell H. Masunaga, director of the Dental Samaritans, said the dentists and paraprofessionals, including many Medicaid providers, who volunteer with the group “;go the extra mile in providing quality care, supplies and education to school-aged keiki across the state.”;

Hawaii has made progress in all proven solutions cited by the Pew Center to improve dental health of children except community water fluoridation, he said.