High prevalence of tooth decay in keiki concerns dentists, proposed law addresses fluoride application

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Children in Hawaii have the highest prevalence of tooth decay in the country. That’s according to a 2016 Department of Health study.

Local dentists are making efforts to change those statistics.

Approximately 150 children on got their teeth cleaned for free at an event held Saturday at Makahiki Health and Dental Clinic in the McCully-Moiliili area. No cavities were removed, but the children got fluoride treatment as part of the cleaning.

Dentist Dr. Scott Morita said “usually, we want to be in the top, but this is in the top of not being so good. A lot of the contributing factors of having a high cavity rate in Hawaii is the sugary diet that we have here. Another thing is lack of education and that’s why we are having this event. Another thing is fluoride as it is very important for keeping the kids teeth healthy.”

According to the health study, 71 percent of third graders in Hawaii have experienced tooth decay, the highest in the nation. Almost one out of four of the third graders in the study had untreated tooth decay.

Some of the dentists we spoke to tell us they are concerned with the low oral health scores children in Hawaii have, and that’s why they are having events just like this one to make sure children get their teeth cleaned and are screened for cavities.

Lawmakers are currently looking at a bill that would limit the procedures dental assistants can do, including administer fluoride. Dental assistants are not currently licensed or certified in Hawaii and are not required to meet the same stringent standards as dental hygienists.

Those who testified in support the bill say its for safety reasons that these procedures should be performed by a licensed dental hygienist. Those who opposed say it would limit the dental assistants’ contributions to the team and impact the flow of services.

“The bill would limit who could apply fluoride to dental hygienists and dentists, but the truth is that dentists supervise everything in their offices,” said Hawaii Dental Association consultant Melissa Pavilcek.

In written testimony, The Hawaii Dental Hygienists’ Association said the statute “needs to clearly delineate the allowable duties and prohibited duties of an unlicensed dental assistant as they relate to the scope of practice of licensed dental hygienists.”

A companion bill relating to dental assistants’ duties will be heard March 1. We’ll keep you posted.

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