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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Thursday, November 29, 2001

KCC dental aide course receives grant

By Jennifer Hiller
Advertiser Education Writer

A local nonprofit has come to the rescue of a college program that was in high demand by the community, but in short supply of money.

The dental assisting program at Kapi'olani Community College will receive a $5,000 grant this year from the Hawai'i Dental Service Foundation.

The four-month dental program, which often takes welfare-to-work recipients and trains them for a new career, operates on a budget of only $1,000 each year. That budget had left program managers unable to easily make repairs to their X-ray machine or replace the material on dental chairs to meet federal requirements set by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration.

"Their budget didn't pay for a whole lot," said Gregory Dunn, chairman of the Hawai'i Dental Service Foundation's board of trustees. "It didn't even cover cost of gloves and masks."

To help meet the need for classroom materials, the foundation also started a collection drive with the member dentists of Hawai'i Dental Service Inc. Dentists around the state have been collecting everything from gloves, masks and composite resin material to drills and picks that will allow students to have a more realistic training experience.

"It will really make a difference to these students. We decided it was important for us to support that program," Dunn said. "There's a shortage of dental assistants in the state. There's a great need in the community."

Sheila Kitamura, director for the dental assisting program, said she now has 30 requests from Hawai'i dentists for assistants and only 13 students graduating this semester with their certificate. Half of those students are planning to go on to a dental hygienist program and will not be out in the work force, she said.

Kitamura said the dental community's demand for graduates of the program has outpaced the number of students entering — as well as the annual budget.

"The foundation is going to help us and they're going to have the dental community help us," she said. "Unfortunately, a lot of the things we had in our clinic were kind of outdated. I want to equip the students with current materials."

The money will help repair equipment and make other lab improvements. The foundation also has offered scholarships to students. And the program has had help in other ways. This semester, Pacific Glove, a local company, provided gloves and masks for students.

"They did it without even batting an eye," Kitamura said.

Local dentists also have offered their offices for clinical training.

"That's the most valuable part of their training," Kitamura said. "It's disruptive for the dentist. They have to stop their otherwise smooth-running office and take time out to teach the student. They open up their practice and teach them a lot."

To help meet the need in the community for more dental assistants, Kitamura said the program will accept more than 20 students next semester, the most it can handle. KCC is also working on offering continuing education classes because the state is requiring ongoing training to maintain certification.

"We want to help meet the dental community's needs, too," Kitamura said.

Reach Jennifer Hiller at jhiller@honoluluadvertiser.com or 525-8084.