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GKAS sparks smiles at Hawaii school

November 05, 2018

By David Burger

Evan Ho and Dr. Sheila Nguyen
Open wide: Evan Ho, 8, a third-grader at Honolulu’s Prince Jonah Kuhio Elementary, gets screened for caries by Dr. Sheila Nguyen at the Give Kids A Smile event Oct. 17 while his mother looks on.
Honolulu — Inside the cafeteria, a stereo system played the beloved “Frozen” song “Love is an Open Door,” a fitting invitation for more than 225 schoolchildren at Honolulu’s Prince Jonah Kuhio Elementary arriving at their school for a morning of education and fun.

“The kids are having tons of fun, and so are the adults,” said Dr. Jaclyn Palola, one of the coordinators for the Give Kids A Smile event Oct. 17, presented by the Hawaii Dental Association Foundation and ADA Foundation.
For the first time, the Hawaii Dental Association Foundation held its GKAS event at a school, rather than a health center. More than 75 volunteers, including 30 dentists, converged on the school to provide oral health education, screenings and fluoride varnish for the children.

The volunteers — who sported lime green shirts with “Smile Maker” on the front and “Supporting the Keiki of Hawaii” on the back — included dental professionals from all of Hawaii’s islands, many in the area for ADA 2018 – America’s Dental Meeting.

Dr. Brennan Takagi closed his office for the day so a contingent of five from his practice could support the GKAS event. He, along with many of his comrades, noted the high level of caries in Hawaii children, in part because of the poverty of some of the families and also because the water in the state does not have fluoride.

“There’s a big need for [dental health education] here,” said Dr. Rylan Bennett, who was manning a station with a poster illustrating good food choices versus bad ones. “Huge need,” echoed his station mate, Dr. Tuan Pham. Both are first-year pediatric residents.

Drs. Brennan Takagi and Keri Wong
Shaka: Drs. Brennan Takagi (left) and Keri Wong show the shaka sign during the Oct. 17 Give Kids A Smile event at Honolulu’s Prince Jonah Kuhio Elementary.
“The more they hear about oral health, the more it will be ingrained in their minds,” said Dr. Keri Wong, one of the event coordinators.

Because this was the first time many of the students were visiting the dentist, Dr. Takagi said it was important to associate going to the dentist with having a joyful time. “One of the biggest things is basic education and creating a fun atmosphere,” he said.

To that end, the cafeteria was dubbed the Fun Zone while the library was reserved for education and screenings. In the Fun Zone, volunteers painted faces, played kid-friendly music and twisted balloon animals as a human-sized dinosaur danced with the students. To engage all of the students, the volunteers set up carnival-style games like ball and ring tossing.

In the library, while students waited for their turn, volunteers treated them to Taylor Swift songs while educating the students using stuffed animals to demonstrate proper brushing, in addition to colorful posters teaching students about healthy foods. A dentist dressed as Mr. Molar held court to smooth any anxiety.

Dr. Leon Johnson, who screened children and applied fluoride varnish to their teeth, said what motivated him was giving back. “I’m here to do what I can for our community,” he said.

The bright, sunny early morning kicked off with the support of leaders including then-ADA President Joseph P. Crowley; Dr. Roy Thompson, ADA 6th District trustee, GKAS national committee member and ADA Foundation board member; Dr. Kathleen T. O’Loughlin, ADA executive director; Dr. Gary Yonemoto, former ADA trustee and president of the Hawaii Dental Association Foundation; Dr. William Calnon, ADA Foundation president; school principal Lynn Kobayashi; and Kim Nguyen, executive director of the Hawaii Dental Association.

Ms. Nguyen said the school was selected because with 78 percent of the children at or below the poverty level, the need for intervention was great. In addition, the Hawaii Dental Association was “able to capitalize on the ADA Foundation’s presence.”

Dr. Scott Morita, GKAS coordinator for the state, handled the microphone for much of the morning as the volunteers, under his direction, worked like a well-oiled machine, shuffling the children from the library to cafeteria in shifts. He said his hopeful goal was to set an example for other states that will host the ADA annual meeting in future years, showing that a GKAS event could be a great addition to any annual meeting. “We’re hoping to set a precedent,” he said. “We’re making a big difference.”

Visit the Give Kids A Smile website for more information: adafoundation.org/gkas.