Mouth Monster

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Estimated reading time: 5 minutes

Mouth Monster

In her new children’s book, Mouth Monster, dental hygienist Tanya Deacon has come up with an effective—and entertaining—way of communicating to young people the importance of taking care of their oral health. By John Burfitt

As numerous published reports have revealed, many Australian children are not brushing and flossing their teeth on a daily basis. Not that dental hygienist Tanya Deacon needs any convincing that the important message of establishing good oral health practices at a young age isn’t getting through. 

Deacon, who works at KidSmile Paediatric Dental in Newcastle, and has been a dental hygienist for 14 years, says she’s seeing firsthand a definite decline in the number of young people paying attention to their oral health. 

“The message we’re putting out there is not working, but it’s the attitude we sometimes get from younger people as they roll their eyes and moan when you bring up the topic that made me think there has to be another way to approach this,” she says. “As dental professionals, I felt we needed to find a way to connect.”

The official figures support Deacon’s observations. A report from the Royal Children’s Hospital in Melbourne found one in three Australian preschoolers have never visited a dentist, and the same proportion do not clean their teeth twice a day. Additionally, one in four parents believe children only need to see a dentist if they have a problem.

A 2023 report by the Australian Dental Association told a similar story, revealing three-quarters of Australians never floss their teeth, while only one in five brush their teeth once a day. 

With these figures in mind and based on her own experiences with young patients, Deacon came up with a novel way to tackle the issue. The result is her new children’s book Mouth Monster.

The book, intended for children of primary school age, is a fantasy adventure tale of a boy named Owen, who enjoys school, playing computer games and books about aliens, but thinks little about taking care of his dental wellbeing.

One day after a visit to his dentist, Owen is transported into an alternative universe within his own mouth where he finds himself in danger. With the assistance of his hygienist friend Melanie who enters the dark universe to help him, Owen is forced to battle his way out using only the tools of a toothbrush, toothpaste, floss and mouthwash.

Deacon, a Bachelor of Oral Health graduate from the University of Newcastle, began working on the story in 2022, shaping a narrative that would engage with her intended audience, while educating them about the essential role of good oral health practices.

“I started by writing down some ideas and then asking dental colleagues for their input and ideas so that the story would make the point, and at the same time, spark the imagination of kids of this age,” she says.

Deacon said her focus while writing was ensuring the story always remained entertaining and non-preachy despite her weaving through it her message about oral health.

The message we’re putting out there is not working, but it’s the attitude we sometimes get from younger people as they roll their eyes and moan when you bring up the topic that made me think there has to be another way to approach this.

Tanya Deacon, author, Mouth Monster

“I just wanted to do away with that, ‘you should do this, you should do that’ approach which I see too many times in oral health campaigns that I think can get overwhelming, and while well intended, miss the mark. People can take that hardline approach personally and then, as a result, ignore their oral health—the very opposite of what was intended.”

What remained high on her agenda throughout the writing process was to make a direct connection between oral health and overall wellbeing, with a focus on exploring why regularly doing certain things to promote dental care is important. Deacon explains this is where she discussed the real dangers of ignoring dental care within the story.

“I wanted kids to realise that brushing, flossing and caring for their teeth could well save their life as problems like dental abscesses can be fatal,” she says. “Through Owen’s experiences, I also touch on how growing up with poor dental health can put them at risk for all kinds of other issues later on, so taking care of it now can change their future.

“I want kids to read the book and think, ‘Yeah, I can do this and now I get why brushing and flossing is important.’ It’s just another form of education and I don’t think we can ever have too much education about oral health.”

As for a sequel, Deacon admits she’s yet to come up with a new adventure tale for Owen but has been approached about writing a version tailored for children with special needs.

“I’ve been told those kids would like a story of their own which targets their specific dental needs,” she says.

“It may explore better access to care, and ways of brushing and cleaning for young people with physical and mental disabilities. That’s something I am looking into because it could be a really interesting approach.’

From the feedback she has received since publishing, it appears the fantasy adventure theme featuring video games, aliens and alternative universes has struck the right chord.

“The main criticism I have had so far from young readers is the story should have had ninjas in it!” she laughs. “One young reader advised me that if I write a sequel, I need to introduce ninjas into the experience. 

“A few have also drawn me pictures of what they think a mouth monster looks like and that is great. If they can visualise what germs and plaque are doing within their mouth and understand that brushing and flossing can tackle that problem head on, then the book has achieved what I wanted it to all along.” 

Mouth Monster by Tanya Deacon is published by Pegasus Publishers and available through Booktopia and Amazon. RRP: $22.78  

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