NWTLC’s oral health literacy project adapted in ways we never could have expected when the project began over a year and a half ago. In fact, just over a year ago we were sitting down for lunch in Fort Smith with Richard Van Camp, anticipating our next visit to unveil Richard’s latest book, Our Ever Awesome NWT Brushing Song! A highlight of our mini-tour through Hay River, Kátł'odeeche, and Fort Smith was to see Richard sign and gift his book to families in attendance in the same gym where he ran around decades before as a young child. We never could have anticipated that, a couple of days later, our mini-tour would be finishing with the permanent closure of our Yellowknife venue, the Snow Castle, just hours before our event was to take place.
Another highlight from the project was my time in Tuktoyaktuk, just before travel was suspended across the territory. Working with the staff and students at Mangilaluk School was a treasure. After working with me for three days on puppetry skills, a group of youth performed a puppet show called “The Toothache” for the younger grades at their school. The children loved the show put on by the older students, which concluded with a reading of Our Ever Awesome NWT Brushing Song! by local Elder and Indigenous language champion, Betty Elias. She then gave each child a book of their own after they said the word “tooth” in Inuvialuktun. This was a project that was meant to continue across the territory, but unfortunately it was suspended because of COVID-19.
Fast-forward twelve months and we are wrapping up a year of virtual meetings and trainings with facilitators from eight different communities, who are hosting their very own community oral health events. Each facilitator has tailored their event to their community’s needs—some virtual, some done with physical distancing and health protocols in place. Facilitators have been working hard to provide information, resources, and guidance on oral health best practices for young children and their families. Our facilitators have enthusiastically stepped up to provide education and awareness for the prevention of tooth decay and other oral health concerns in young children. This work has been made even more important today, when access to oral health care and visits from oral health professionals has been made more difficult—especially in our remote communities where oral health professionals fly in.
We’ve developed oral health resources for children in collaboration with Health and Social Services. These include informational videos with puppets, toothbrushing tracking charts, children’s activity sheets and craft ideas, new story sacks of Our Ever Awesome NWT Brushing Song! with crocheted characters from the book, as well as an animatic story written by Richard Van Camp and illustrated by Neiva Mateus—the same dynamic duo who created our book. The book is currently being finalized in an e-book format, where anyone will be able to read and/or listen to the book in any of the 11 NWT official languages. By the time Oral Health Month rolls around in April, every child will be able to celebrate with a copy of their very own book and have access to all of the activities and resources we’ve developed.
May oral health continue to be a focus for all of us—especially for young families. Making brushing and flossing a fun time for the whole family can encourage good oral health habits for a lifetime of healthy smiles!
Stephanie van Pelt is NWT Literacy Council’s Community Oral Health Literacy Coordinator.
Elder Betty Elias handing out Our Ever Awesome NWT Brushing Song! at Mangilaluk School, Tuktoyaktuk.
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