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Two Special Teachers in East Arnhem Land

Two Special Teachers in East Arnhem Land’

Hello, I am the author, Garth Pettit, or better known to children as GarGar The Dentist.


It is appropriate that I set the ball rolling with this story about two very special teachers who taught at a remote Australian Aboriginal Community School in Numbulwar, East Arnhem Land.

I visited all East Arnhem Land schools regularly over a period of more than 5 years. There is one particularly important observation I made in the school in the community of Numbulwar each year during this period. It caused me to re-write much of which I had already then written and resulted in the oral hygiene instruction ‘Treat Your Mouth’.

Each year, in every East Arnhem Land school, children in each class were subjected to a screening for decayed, missing and filled teeth etc. In the Numbulwar school two teachers responsible for 6 to 8 year old children, had taken it upon themselves to create a ‘breakfast regime’. This consisted of giving their children a healthy breakfast. They followed breakfast by instructing the children to ‘Brush Your Teeth and rinse and rinse your brush under the tap’. They had ‘begged, borrowed and stealed’ the brushes and paste for their children.

As with Aboriginal language the children interpreted this instruction literally. So they were ‘brushing their teeth’, (not rinsing their mouths because they were not told to do that), then they were ‘ rinsing and rinsing their brush under the tap’. The result was quite remarkable. Their incidence of arrested decay rose dramatically and their incidence of new dental decay fell to virtually zero. Their gums were healthier and their breath was fresher. WHY?

Because by not rinsing their mouths they were leaving toothpaste in their mouths and the ingredients in the toothpaste, especially the fluoride reacting on the enamel, was causing this dramatic, beneficial effect. Children in classes below them, with no breakfast regime, exhibited the usual high rates of decay. Children in classes above them, with no breakfast regime, exhibited dramatically increasing rates of decay.

I wanted to incorporate this remarkable story into the books I was writing. Eventually it dawned upon me that I had to rewrite the oral hygiene instruction ‘Brush our Teeth’. It was OUTDATED! I pondered
for weeks creating the new and superior oral hygiene instruction, ‘Treat Your Mouth’. That was back in 2001.

Future generations of children who learn to treat their mouths from an early age and who will benefit from a lifetime of oral health will have much to thank those two special teachers for.