By: Carolyn Hyman
Photo Credit: Rayen Watanabe
Despite an abscess, Brett was obviously happy to be sitting in the dentist’s chair. Surrounded by University of Hawai’i at Mānoa student Tayzha Basilio and Aloha Medical Mission’s Marissa Powers, Brett appeared right at home. He looked completely relaxed and happy with a pink, paper bib around his neck. That’s a little unusual to see in a dentist’s chair, though it’s not unusual to see at this dental clinic, located in the Aloha United Way Building in Honolulu. How many of us have dreaded seeing the dentist? How many of us realize what a privilege it is to be able to sit in the chair?
You see smiles everywhere. The Aloha Medical Missionʻs Dental Clinic provides critical dental services to those who would otherwise not be able to afford it. Brett, one of four patient’s in the small exam and service room, admitted that he had ignored a lot of problems with his teeth and that the abscess forced him to look for services that he could afford. “I’m getting a cleaning today and hopefully my filling and everything done, it’s been great.” Marissa Powers, an Aloha Medical Mission Hygienist nodded an affirmation and explained to Brett that another patient hadn’t yet confirmed their 10:00 a.m. appointment and that he might be able to stay and have the filling done.
“You guys picked me because my shirt’s so spiffy. It’s a peacel shirt and we need more peace and kindness in this world,” Brett jokes. He is employed, but doesn’t have dental insurance and would otherwise be unable to afford any dental care at all. Aloha Medical Mission is a lifesaver for working people like Brett who fall at or below the poverty line. This service is crucial for retired kūpuna, like the woman we met in the waiting room with her daughter. “My mom is retired and doesnʻt have insurance anymore, so we come to the clinic for her treatment,” the daughter explains. “I love this program and if you need me to write a letter, I will,” she kindly offers once she sees the photos taken.
You see, thereʻs a clear relationship between oral health and wellness. Untreated gum disease has been linked to multiple illnesses like heart disease, diabetes, and even respiratory disease and arthritis. For many in Hawai’i, standard dental care and treatment isnʻt affordable. Oral health and regular exams are neglected over time and it causes both physical and psychological pain. Imagine living with a broken tooth or debilitating tooth pain. Aloha Medical Mission, one of the Aloha United Wayʻs partner agencies, provides a valuable and critical service. They give people their smiles back.
By utilizing volunteers, grants, and other funding sources, they are able to provide essential treatment and exams. Marissa, an employee of the clinic shares, “this is my first time working for a nonprofit. It's different, but in a really good way.” She works alongside a University of Hawai’i student who carefully cleans Brettʻs teeth under Marissaʻs watchful eye. The students are able to receive important training and provide service to the community. The clinic works because everything is carefully coordinated and people care enough to give their time and donations.
Aloha Medical Mission is an Aloha United Way 2021 Safety Net grantee and they are in the business of making smiles happen.