West Hawaii Today - - Local News - BY CAMERON MICULKA cmiculka@west­hawai­ito­

KAILUA-KONA — As a work­ing mom, Cheyenne Al­varez said, it can be hard to find time to make den­tist ap­point­ments, par­tic­u­larly on days when she’s work­ing from 4 or 5 p.m. to 3 the next morn­ing.

So when she heard a team from the West Hawaii Com­mu­nity Health Cen­ter was com­ing to Ulu Wini for den­tal out­reach, she jumped at the chance to get her four kids checked out.

“I thought it was awe­some,” she said Thurs­day morn­ing. “Be­cause I work a lot and I hardly have time to make den­tist ap­point­ments, and it just so hap­pens that to­day’s my day off and it just worked out per­fectly.”

The Health Cen­ter is the only one in Hawaii cur­rently in­volved in the tele-den­tistry pi­lot project, which is now in its sec­ond year and tar­geted at preschool chil­dren.

The pro­gram sends a hy­gien­ist and as­sis­tant out into the com­mu­nity with por­ta­ble den­tal equip­ment, which al­lows them to pro­vide an oral exam that in­cludes tak­ing pic­tures and X-rays as well as dis­cussing oral health and preven­tion with kids and their par­ents.

A den­tist can later re­view each of the chil­dren’s records and de­ter­mine whether he or she needs to come into a clinic for treat­ment.

The pro­gram al­lows the Health Cen­ter to reach chil­dren and fam­i­lies who oth­er­wise might not be able to ac­cess care and treat­ment op­tions. In this case, they vis­ited the af­ford­able rental and tran­si­tional hous­ing com­plex in Kailua-Kona.

“So re­ally what it’s do­ing is en­abling us to bring ser­vices out to where the peo­ple are, out into the com­mu­nity,” said Donna Alt­shul, den­tal pro­gram man­ager for the West Hawaii Com­mu­nity Health Cen­ter.

Al­varez said she al­ready reg­u­larly checks the teeth of her four kids, but the out­reach pro­gram is a great op­por­tu­nity for a pro­fes­sional to take a look and iden­tify any is­sues that might need to be ad­dressed.

“You know, some­times there’s things you can’t see, that only the den­tist can see,” she said. “Be­cause I’m not a den­tist. It might look all good on the out­side, but it might not be as good as it looks.”

The pro­gram ran from Wed­nes­day through Thurs­day, with the team see­ing a to­tal of 23 kids over the two days.

And it’s not just a one­and-done deal. Health pro­fes­sion­als, Alt­shul said, come out to the com­mu­ni­ties they serve and work to build a pres­ence there.

“They’re there. They see the kids ev­ery day,” she said. “When they come in, they be­come part of the pro­gram so that the kids get fami­lar with the team.”

And not only are the kids get­ting fa­mil­iar with the team, but so are the par­ents, who can ask ques­tions and em­power them­selves to pro­mote healthy habits within their fam­i­lies.

Toni Sy­mons, pro­gram di­rec­tor for so­cial ser­vices at Ulu Wini, said the pro­gram is im­por­tant for young res­i­dents at the hous­ing com­plex, par­tic­u­larly for those whose par­ents might not have trans­porta­tion to den­tal clin­ics.

And be­cause res­i­dents trust the pro­grams that come to the com­mu­nity, Sy­mons added, it makes it that much eas­ier to build re­la­tion­ships be­tween res­i­dents and health care providers.

“So it’s eas­ier to bring health care here be­cause they know that they trust us,” Sy­mons said. “So they know that what we bring here is go­ing to be good for them.”

And even in its sec­ond year, Sy­mons said they’re al­ready see­ing a long-term im­pact on the com­mu­nity.

“Our kids are will­ingly brush­ing their teeth; they’re aware of their teeth,” she said. “They un­der­stand hav­ing teeth cleaned.”

She added some kids who had re­ceived ex­ams on Wed­nes­day were even re­as­sur­ing another child get­ting an exam on Thurs­day.

“And the more they un­der­stand the im­por­tance of tak­ing care of their teeth, I mean that’s go­ing to go far be­cause that will trans­late into tak­ing care of their health, all of that stuff,” she said.

Alt­shul also said the pro­gram has been great at en­cour­ag­ing health­ier be­hav­iors and ap­plauded the work at Ulu Wini to do the same, cred­it­ing Sy­mons for ex­am­ple with pro­mot­ing healthy foods in the com­mu­nity.

“It re­ally takes a whole com­mu­nity to change all those be­hav­iors so that you can ef­fect a change in the health of a child,” Alt­shul said.


West Hawaii Com­mu­nity Health Cen­ter den­tal hy­gi­en­tist Michele Tui, left, ex­am­ines Beatriz Zamora’s teeth at the Ulu Wini Den­tal Clinic on Thurs­day.

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