Hawaii to cut kids' dental program

Hawaii's Dental Hygiene Branch, which serves about 40,000 young people per year, is being shut down, with layoffs scheduled for November, according to a story in the Honolulu Star Bulletin.

Medicaid dental benefits for adults also were reduced August 10 by the state Department of Human Services to cover only emergency services, according to the Star Bulletin.

Hygienists in the Dental Hygiene Branch work one-on-one with children in elementary and high schools, treating their teeth with fluoride and teaching them how to brush and care for their teeth, the Star Bulletin reported. Screening is done if needed to identify caries and inform parents.

Gary Umeda, president of the Hawaii Dental Association, told the Star Bulletin that the layoffs are "of great concern. ... Nobody disputes the need to cut. We understand it's very difficult, but we need to invest in the health of our people."

According to Beth Giesting, executive director of the Hawaii Primary Care Association, nearly all health centers in Hawaii now have dental services or will by the end of the year. The centers also started pediatric dental residency programs last July.

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