New oral health director to bolster JABSOM curriculum and care

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Dr. Matthew Oishi is JABSOM’s Inaugural Oral Health Director.

The root of some serious health problems can start with your teeth.

“There’s such a big link now between dental health and other medical problems,” said Dr. Jill Omori, Director of the Office of Medical Education at the John A. Burns School of Medicine. Dr. Omori points to issues traced back to oral health, like diabetes, heart disease, and pregnancy complications. “There’s a higher rate of pre-term births when you have poor dentition, so these things are essential for our students to understand,” she said.

Thanks to a $2.25 million endowment from Hawaii Dental Service, JABSOM will integrate oral health into its curriculum more than ever before. JABSOM used part of the endowment to establish its first oral health director. Dr. Matthew Oishi started in the role in late January.

“He’s going to create a four-year curriculum plan for oral health,” Dr. Omori said. “Whether it’s integrating more with our Problem-Based Learning cases, providing new lectures or hands-on workshops, and working with students at H.O.M.E. Clinic at least once a week, where he can work clinically with them to help them with oral assessments.”

Dr. Oishi currently serves as a public health dentist at Kokua Kalihi Valley, providing education to New York University dental residents. He also works as a community dentist at Lānaʻi Community Health Center. Dr. Omori said his education and public health background was a perfect fit for JABSOM because they share the same approach to care and he also has the opportunity to provide on-the-spot training at H.O.M.E. (Houseless Outreach and Medical Education) Project clinics.

“From the H.O.M.E. Project’s standpoint, dental care is one of our biggest needs for our patients. Not only to be able to provide training for our students, but to be able to provide care for our patients is a big thing,” Dr. Omori said.

JABSOM’s mission is to have learners see patients as a “whole,” and Dr. Mark Sweet, HDS dental director, said the addition of Dr. Oishi is another step toward that goal.

“Oral health is a critical component of whole person health. Training medical professionals in oral health care helps them better understand this connection. We are creating a more comprehensive healthcare system that delivers better outcomes for patients.”

Dr. Omori agreed and gave real-world examples of how Dr. Oishi’s impact will be felt not only by students absorbing the new oral health curriculum but the patients who receive the care at the H.O.M.E. clinics.

“For a lot of our patients, it might start off as a simple gum infection,” Dr. Omori said. “If it’s not treated or dealt with, it can grow into a big abscess, and we’ve seen our patients get facial cellulitis just from a tooth abscess. To be able to identify when that is happening and what to do about it is going to be very important for our students.”

In the coming year, JABSOM also hopes to collaborate with the University of Hawaiʻi Nancy Atmospera-Walch School of Nursingʻs dental hygiene program to incorporate students into the H.O.M.E. clinic to work with the medical students.