UH Oral Health Toolkit helps children in Hawaii and beyond: Kauai Now: Kauai News & Information

A health care provider and a parent with her child discuss oral health during a well-child visit. (Photos courtesy of University of Hawaii)

University of Hawaii at Manoa School of Nursing Associate Professor Nancy Atmospera-Walch has developed an oral health toolkit to teach nurses, physicians, and health care students how to effectively integrate oral health into their practice.

Deborah Mathew

The Oral Health into Primary Care Practice: Oral Health Essential Services in a Well-Child Visit project is a collaboration between the Department of Health’s Division of Family Health Services and the UH-Mānoa School of Nursing.

“Integrating oral health into pediatric primary care practice is an essential and cost-effective way to reduce poor oral health outcomes and improve the overall health and quality of life of our island residents,” Deborah Matheus, Project Manager and Nancy Atmospera-Walch School of Nursing Professor of School Health Nursing, said in a news release. “As a practitioner (nurse practitioner), I see children in the clinic all the time who have poor oral hygiene. We have a great opportunity to proactively care for their teeth as part of their well child visit. This will prepare these children for good dental hygiene when they grow up.”

The project consisted of creating an educational video and promotional toolkit and distributing content to a national audience. The toolkit includes:

  • Video and handout on steps to apply fluoride varnish.
  • Visual examples of cavities in infancy.
  • Medical card template.
  • Fact sheet for families with fluoride varnish.

Matheus has shared the toolkit with other nursing/medicine programs in Hawaii, with requests to schedule workshops beginning this fall. She works with these programs to integrate oral health into their curriculum.

Oral health is an integral part of overall health and the community impact study showed that too many people in the islands do not have access to the oral health care they need. A 2022 DOH report found that preschoolers from low-income families have the highest prevalence of tooth decay in the nation.

“The consequences of poor oral health affect the entire body, and many oral health conditions are preventable and can reduce costly emergency room visits,” the UH press release said.

Matheus, who is also senior director of the Hawaiʻi Keiki: Healthy and Ready to Learn practice and director of the Dental Sealant Program, said young children are seen by primary care providers more often than dentists, with an average of 12 recommended well-child pediatric visits from age 3 and annually from age 3-21.

“Every primary care visit is an opportunity to assess oral health status, provide oral health education, connect families to a dental office and, when appropriate, apply fluoride varnish,” she said in the press release.

The video and toolkit were distributed to the Hawaii Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics, the Hawaii Primary Care Association, the National Association of Pediatric Nurse Practitioners Hawaii Chapter, the Hawaii American Nurses Association, the Hawaii Oral Health Coalition, and the Hawaii Dental Service.

The toolkit also reached the mainland and was distributed by the Oral Health Section of the Academy of Pediatrics, Harvard University’s Center for Integrating Primary Care and Oral Health, the Network for Advancement and Equity in Oral Health, and Oral Health Nursing Education and Practice health.

Matheus was also invited to present the keynote address at the National Maternal and Child Oral Health Resource Center’s Oral Health Learning Cafe webinar in November.

For more information about the project or to request the video and toolkit, contact Mattheus at [email protected]

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