Last month, the Hawaii Dental Association recognized Nancy Johnson and me for our roles in developing the Maui Oral Health Care Center and University of Hawaii Maui College dental programs. But we represent only two players in a much larger cast that brought basic dental health care services to Maui.
Ten years ago, Maui County District Health Officer Lorrin Pang and Dr. Fumio Tsuji advised the college that one third of our local residents lacked basic oral care. The college leadership confirmed that the need was dire and that our local percentages reflected state and national statistics.
Responding to the oral care needs of our community was complex and required the help of a large number of supportive partners.
But identifying unmet needs and addressing important, persistent challenges provide higher education with opportunities to serve students and community simultaneously; that's the story behind the Maui Oral Health Care Center and the college's dental programs.
In 2002, the college established the center when Dr. Mickey Damerell donated dental equipment, and Herb Ushiroda, owner of a local dental office, installed an access elevator in his building and offered the college a favorable lease.
College faculty and staff collaborated to develop the Dental Assisting and Dental Hygiene Programs and the Maui Oral Health Center. In the spring of 2003, the Dental Assisting program graduated its first students.
The Dental Hygiene program was added in 2009.
To make the program self-sustaining, the mayor, Maui County Council and state directors of health and human services helped develop funding and Medicaid support for the college, benefiting both dental services and the education program.
Finally, the college partnered with the New York Lutheran Medical Center Dental Residence Program, which brought us three dental residents and two staff dentists. They serve patients and offer clinical practice opportunities for UH-MC students.
And what difference has this made? In 2010, the center provided dental care to more than 3,000 patients in more than 11,000 appointments. Overall, the program has served approximately 8,000 patients for a total of 61,700 appointments. By May 2011, 142 dental assistants and nine dental hygienists will have completed their respective programs.
Our program owes its vitality to the many community members who have contributed their time, expertise, and resources.
We are indebted to more than 50 Maui dentists, 30 organizations, and 100 donors - including the Strong Foundation.
Dr. James Merrett of Maui Smiles has been involved in the Maui Oral Health Initiative since 2002.
He and many other dentists have been guest lecturers and UH-MC Dental Advisory Committee members. They have also funded supplies, student scholarships, and externship sites in their offices.
Dr. Merrett said he has enjoyed being involved with the programs.
"It gives me a chance to give back to my community and raise the level of dental care to the public," he said. "The students that graduate from the program are equipped with the skills that I need to run my office efficiently, while offering optimal care to our patients."
There were many, many people who helped create and sustain these programs and services. We celebrate our many partners and are grateful for the kokua we continue to receive.
* Clyde Sakamoto is chancellor of the University of Hawaii Maui College. Ka'ana Mana'o, which means "sharing thoughts," is scheduled to appear on the fourth Sunday of each month. It is penned by UH Maui College staff and is intended to provide the community of Maui County information about opportunities available through the college at its Kahului campus and its education centers.