UH’s oral health toolkit helps children in Hawaii and beyond

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

A University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa associate professor from the Nancy Atmospera-Walch School of Nursing has developed an oral health toolkit to teach nurses, physicians and health care students how to effectively integrate oral health into practice Theirs.

Deborah Matthew

The project, Oral Health in Primary Care Practice: Essential Oral Health Services in a Well-Child Visit, is a collaboration between the State Department of Health’s Department 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 overall health and quality of life for our Islanders,” Deborah Mattheus, project leader and Nancy Atmospera-Walch School of Health nursing professor at the school, said in a media release. “As a (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 set these children up for good dental hygiene as they grow up.”

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

  • A video and handout on the steps for applying fluoride varnish.
  • Visual examples of early childhood cavities.
  • A template for medical drafting.
  • A fluoride varnish fact sheet for families.

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


Oral health is an integral part of overall health and public impact research has shown that many people on the islands are unable to access necessary oral health care. A 2022 report by the DOH found that preschoolers from low-income families have the highest prevalence of tooth decay in the country.


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

Mattheus, who is also director of senior practice and director of the dental sealants program at Hawaiʻi Keiki: Healthy and Ready to Learn, said young children are seen by primary care providers more often than dentists, with an average of 12 recommended pediatric visits for well children. when they are 3 years old and every year from 3-21 years old.

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


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

The toolkit also reached the continent and was distributed by the Academy of Pediatrics’ Section on Oral Health, Harvard University’s Center for Integrating Primary Care and Oral Health, the Oral Health Progress and Equity Network, and Health Nursing Education and Practice Orally.

Mattheus has also been invited to present the keynote address at the National Maternal and Child Oral Health Resource Center 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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