As part of a lifestyle and aging series, we’re working with renowned photographer Terry Lorant to showcase inspirational leaders in the industry. Each month, we’ll feature one or a few inspirational member(s) of the Amazing Care Network community who is using his or her voice to empower others in the collective aging experience. Read, in their own words, what the Amazing Care Network’s efforts mean to them.

This month we’re proud to feature ACN Member, Mark Yamakawa.

Q: Can you tell us a little bit about your work and background and how you came to know the Amazing Care Network?

MY: Sure. I’ve been with Hawaii Dental Service (HDS) for about five years now as president and CEO. At Hawaii Dental Service we’re Hawaii’s leading dental benefits provider, part of Delta Dental. We provide benefits to many employer groups and serve nearly a million people across the state. We also have our HDS Foundation that helps fulfill HDS’s mission to improve the oral health of Hawaii families, particularly across underserved communities.

Q: How does the work that you’re doing here, what you’ve just described, connect with the Amazing Care Network, and what the project is trying to do?

MY: What really resonates with me about the Amazing Care Network is that it’s designed to help people age well. In terms of physical and mental fitness, and financial fitness too…that’s such an important thing. I just remember when I was much younger and just so caught up in the day to day I didn’t really think much about planning for retirement. Well, here I am now actually thinking about it! And I’m just very grateful that through this kind of network, it’s possible to be able to do what it takes to plan for retirement and get a sense of how to age gracefully.

I’ve had a very recent life-changing event…my wife and I have just become grandparents. Our oldest daughter gave birth four months ago and our youngest gave birth a month ago. Up until the grandbabies came along, I was very focused on career, not focused on preparing for retirement. With two grandkids, it begs the question of how they fit into our lives as well? We started funding their 529 accounts already. One of our bedrooms has been converted into a nursery. We are just overjoyed at the opportunity to take care of grandkids now.

What I appreciate about the Amazing Care Network is that it connects you with people who have been through these life milestones and you can learn from their experiences. It’s about the different phases of your life. The ability to socialize over similar issues that gives you just a little more comfort and confidence in your abilities to navigate these different, interesting and challenging phases.  It’s remarkable.

Q: What opportunities might the Amazing Care project be providing your membership?

MY: HDS recently created our own oral health wellness program, SmileWell. While I believe we do a really great job in providing dental benefits and taking care of people’s oral health, some of our employer groups are asking, “What additional value can you provide to our employees?” Maybe Amazing Care Network can fit into our SmileWell program by providing services to our members. I’d be interested to explore that further.

We’re very focused on how we can encourage more people to go to the dentist. About a third of the people who have dental coverage never see the dentist. We’re trying to understand this more – what the barriers to seeing the dentist are. Some people are afraid because of past experiences. Some people feel like unless there’s pain then they don’t need to see the dentist. Or course that’s not true since your oral health is about prevention.

One of the facets of our SmileWell program is “SmileTalk” where we bring dentists directly to employer worksites to talk about oral health and why it’s important – employees can engage privately with the dentist to ask any questions they want in a more relaxed setting. The ultimate goal is for the dentist to refer the employee back to their personal dentist to close the loop and ensure they get the care they need.

Q: What are some of the particular dental issues for people as we age?

MY: Gum disease becomes a bigger issue because it can lead to very serious health concerns and that’s why it’s really important for people to continue to go see their dentist into retirement. Retirees should keep in mind that Medicare does not cover dental. When seniors find out about the lack of coverage, due to a potentially limited budget, most seniors choose not to get a dental plan or regular care.

The Amazing Care Network plan allows people to use some of their savings for dental needs. Senior oral health is really important, so through the HDS Foundation, we’ve also implemented a program to educate and train nursing home caregivers on how to better take care of seniors’ oral health.

Nursing and care home nurses and aides are concerned with a multitude of things – feeding, medications, physical wellbeing, etc. Oftentimes oral health is not a priority, so we’ve been sending hygienist teams into select nursing homes to train caregivers on the proper way to brush and also more effective methods to manage oral health of seniors with additional medical needs such as dementia.

Efforts like these are just one way of connecting better oral health to better overall health and quality of life. It is not a foregone conclusion that we lose our teeth as we age. HDS wants to improve the oral health outcomes of our senior population so they can continue to enjoy their retirement years, get the best nutrition with healthy teeth and gums, and so they can live well, smile more.

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