INTRODUCTION: While oral health disparities exist in many ethnic groups in Hawaii, the challenge of developing research and intervention programs is hampered by the lack of a dental school and adequate state resources.
OBJECTIVE: To use a collaboration model to establish a mentoring relationship with a research-intensive school of dentistry to reduce oral health disparities in Hawaii.
METHODS: Collaborative interactions with the University of Hawaii School of Medicine (UH) and the University of North Carolina School of Dentistry at Chapel Hill (UNC) included bimonthly teleconferences, on-site planning and mentoring sessions, yearly conferences in Hawaii open to the community using UNC faculty, and on-site skills training sessions. The community was asked to participate in determining priorities for research through focus-group interactions. Two pilot investigations were also conducted.
RESULTS: Both universities have been awarded grants to fund activities to support the combined intellectual and physical resources of multiple private, public, and community organizations to achieve the goal of improving the oral health status of the people of Hawaii. As a result of initial planning, two related grants have been submitted (one approved, one disapproved) to fund pilot studies on the oral health status of mothers and their babies in a rural community. These studies include both UH and UNC investigators.
CONCLUSIONS: Health disparities occur among diverse ethnic groups in Hawaii, and links between general health and oral health continue to emerge. In spite of obstacles to designing effective research and intervention programs in Hawaii, UH fostered a collaborative relationship with a premiere dental research institution to develop competence in clinical research, conduct pilot studies, and obtain extramural funding for comprehensive studies. Direct involvement of community representatives in the research process is integral to the success of such studies and will continue to serve as the foundation of our community-based participatory research. The network partners have accomplished their primary goal of developing culturally appropriate methods for assessing determinants of oral health, oral health-related quality of life, and health outcomes in Asians and Pacific Islanders.