Angharad Jones speaks to Dr Robert Hempleman about the children’s books he’s created to help the fight against tooth decay
The stark reality of tooth decay in children in the UK really came to light in 2014. In June, a documentary on Manchester’s Dental Hospital was aired prime time on ITV, informing viewers that under-fives in the North West of England have the worst dental health among children in the country, and that this hospital sees numerous multiple extractions in this age group a week.
Soon after, a report was released showing the latest figures from the Health and Social Care Information Centre, which found that the number of hospital admissions for five to nine-year-olds with dental problems was 25,812 in 2013-14. This is up by more than 3,000 from 2010-11, when the figure was 22,574. The figures also showed that in 2013-14, almost 500 children aged five to nine were hospitalised each week due to tooth decay.
Finally, in September this year, Public Health England released a report showing that in 2013, 12 per cent of three-year-olds in England had experienced dental decay. On average, these children had 3.08 teeth that were decayed, missing or filled. The four regions with highest severity were East Midlands, North West, London and Yorkshire and the Humber, with the highest number of children suffering from tooth decay being found in Leicester, with 34 per cent having visible decay.
With this as his motivation, one dentist has decided to do his bit to try and reduce tooth decay and improve oral health among children, by creating a series of digital children’s books. I spoke to Robert Hempleman about Tula the Tooth Fairy; the character he hopes will educate children and parents on dental health in a fun, appealing way that captures the imagination of children.
The stories are based on a very small, fictional planet called Orleana where the tooth fairies live. However, they’re under attack from the evil Emperor Rott, his army of rottsters, his evil son Prince DK and Captain Plaque.
“The fairies retreated to the realm of Vitura which is protected by a shield, which is powered by the harvesting of the baby teeth they get from earth. Unfortunately the shield is weakening because the teeth are all decayed and rotten so you can’t get as much power,” says Robert.
“King Wisdom gets his four brightest pupils from Gumbridge University to go to earth to teach children about dental defence and also to harvest some teeth.” However, the fairies are constantly under attack from Emperor Rott and his army, so the books see them go through various trials and tribulations along the way.
As well as excitement and adventure, the underlying aim of the books is to educate children in dental health, as well as covering moral issues such as kindness and respect.
Throughout the stories, footnotes are included to explain some words that children may not know, or give extra information. For example in story one where ‘dental defence’ is used, it says ‘don’t forget to brush your teeth twice a day’ at the bottom of the page.
“We don’t want to preach to the kids but we want to encourage them,” says Robert.
Another way to get children actively involved is by sending gifts with each book. “With each book and club subscription kids get one thing through the post. There’s a tooth box to put their baby teeth in under the pillow, and the Tula Times is a four-sided newsletter which has a couple of jokes,a badge, spot the difference and a colouring in activity.”
As well as the e-books, there’s a website full of resources that parents and children can use.
“There’s a lot of free stuff on the website; there’s information, and they can download puzzles and games,” says Robert. “There are a lot of hidden sugars in all foods these days so we’ve got some recipes on the website. Some of them do contain sugar but there is a link to alternatives; we just want to adopt the line of sugar responsibility and dental defence.”
In order to promote the books, Robert is asking dentists to put up posters in practice waiting rooms across the UK. Each poster will have an individual promotional code for the practice, and £1 will be donated to the charity Smile Train for every child that signs up for book one. Those practices that display the posters will also be featured on www.tulatoothfairy.com.
Children and parents can join ‘The Tula Club’ at www.tulatoothfairy.com and subscribe to the first book.
Dentists or their Practice managers can register at the Charity section www.tulatoothfairy.com/charity
Partnership and Sponsorship enquiries to http://www.tulatoothfairy.com/contact-us
Image courtesy of www.tulatoothfairy.com