Dr. Wynn Okuda

Sarah Pacheco
Wednesday - December 22, 2010
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As co-founder of the Lokahi Project, Mariellen Jones has dedicated the last 26 years of her life to helping those in need. Now it is her turn to receive a special gift - the gift of a new smile, courtesy of Dr. Wynn Okuda.

Okuda and Jones (pictured here) first met three years ago, when Jones told him about how, as a child, she had been given the medication tetracycline, which caused her teeth to turn dark and become very weak and prone to decay, leading to a lifetime of both pain and embarrassment.

Jones knew she needed extensive dental work, but she could never afford to pay for every procedure at once. To make matters worse, each time she would go into the dentist’s office, the condition of her teeth had worsened.

After hearing this, Okuda did the only thing he could think of - perform the $60,000-plus dental work at no cost.

“Here’s this person giving others hope but has no hope herself. So I wanted to give hope to the person who has been giving hope,” says Okuda. “She represents the best of us, who we want to be, and I admire that so much.

“And, you know, being in Hawaii, it’s important to share the aloha spirit.” The first dental exam was in October, when Okuda did two year’s worth of dental work in one day, including several root canals, gum surgery and fitting Jones with a full set of temporary restorations customized to fit her individual personality and look.

At a follow-up visit a few weeks later, Jones was already feeling like a whole new woman.

“I could sense she was happier and felt healthier because all the cavity and decay were gone,” Okuda states. “It’s not just about the look, it’s how she feels and not having to live with pain.

“Now she has a new problem - her cheeks hurt from smiling so much!” he adds with a chuckle (see the proof in the photo above).

Okuda’s ceramic artists-to-the-stars at Recreation Dental Studios in Los Angeles are donating all the laboratory work to complete Jones’permanent restorations and deliver them to the Islands before Christmas.

“My goal was to deliver before Santa arrives, because she deserves hope during the holidays,” Okuda says. “My work is my hobby, so it’s easy to give back ... Giving hope and sharing my talents is what I do.”

Indeed, the charitable dentist has been giving back to the community for years. He and office manager Julie Brum founded the “Give Back A Smile Program” in 2000 to help domestic violence survivors nationwide restore their smiles and lives. To date, the program has given nearly $8 million nationally in pro bono services, and Okuda says that his friends and colleagues have even reached out to help abuse victims worldwide. Visit http://www.aacd.com for more information.

Closer to home, Okuda and his dental office regularly donate to the Hawaii Foodbank, the Heart Ball and Diamond Head Theatre, among others. And because his practice is located in Kaimuki, Okuda makes sure to give a little to the Kaimuki Christmas Parade each year.

“We want to feel connected to the community because we have such a great practice here,” Okuda says.

And his practice, Brum’s family and the Okuda ohana (wife Caryn, son Logyn, 7, and daughter Madelyn, 19 months) adopt a family from the Lokahi Project every year.

“This is just something we decided to do,” says Okuda, “but I really want to encourage people to give from their heart. During the recession, it’s harder, but it feels good to give from your heart. It doesn’t have to be money, it can be your time, your talent. That’s what keeps our aloha spirit alive.”

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