HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - The Hawai'i State Department of Health's recently released "Hawai'i Smiles" statewide surveillance report doesn't give much to smile about, but offers a positive roadmap to improve the oral health of Hawai'i children.
The survey confirmed that Hawai'i children have the highest prevalence of tooth decay in the nation. The baseline results were based on data collected from more than 3,000 third grade students in 67 public elementary schools during the 2014-2015 school year. Third graders were selected because this is the same target population of national oral health surveillance surveys and provided a basis of comparison with national statistics. The survey was funded by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, with additional local funding from the HDS Foundation and the Kaiser Foundation.
According to the survey's key findings, more than 7 out of 10 third graders (71 percent) are affected by tooth decay. This is substantially higher than the national average of 52 percent. Also, about 7 percent of Hawaii third grade children are in need of urgent dental care because of pain or infection.
Within Hawai'i's multi-ethnic environment, there are also oral health disparities. Micronesian and other Pacific Islanders, including those from Guam, Samoa, Tonga and other Pacific Islands, have the highest prevalence of untreated decay. About 56 percent of Micronesian and 41 percent of other Pacific Islander children have untreated decay – four times higher than the prevalence among Caucasian (13 percent) and Japanese (11 percent) children. Ethnic disparities also show a more pronounced gap for urgent dental care: 30 percent of Micronesian and 23 percent of other Pacific Island children have dental pain and/or infection compared to only 3 percent of Caucasian and 2 percent of Japanese children.
The survey showed that all Hawai'i children do not take advantage of preventive measures to improve their oral health. More than 60 percent of children in Hawai'i do not have protective dental sealants, a cost-effective clinical intervention to prevent tooth decay in molars.
The HDS Foundation, the charitable arm of Hawai'i Dental Service, has provided funding to the Department of Health for a school-based dental sealant program for students at high risk for cavities; funding to Women, Infants, Children (WIC), a federal nutrition program for low-income families to provide fluoride varnishes for young children; and educational materials for Head Start early-education programs. HDS also recently launched a "Dentist by One" public service campaign and outreach program to dentists and pediatricians to encourage parents to take their children to the dentist before their first birthday.