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Story Telling—An Example

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HealthWiki > Where There Is No Dentist > Chapter 2: Teaching Family and Friends in Your Community > Story Telling—An Example


People everywhere have a tradition of teaching with stories. Many of the things we believe, we learned through stories we heard from parents, friends, and teachers. This is good, except when a story teaches something that isn’t true! When a woman gets pregnant, for example, she hears many stories, and she wants to learn whatever she can from these stories. Unfortunately, some traditional beliefs about pregnancy are partly wrong. An example is the belief that one must always have dental problems during pregnancy.

Here is a story you can tell to help people see that they are partly right about pregnancy and dental problems, but that there is more to understand.

A Story: Bertine's teeth

Bertine was the dental worker in her village. She was a young woman, but the villagers respected her because she was such a careful worker, and because she knew how to fill cavities and pull teeth without hurting people. She also spent a lot of time teaching people how to avoid dental problems. “Clean your teeth every day!” she often said, at her clinic, at the schools, at village meetings. “Eat a mixture of foods, especially a lot of fruits and vegetables! Avoid candy and sweet, sticky foods!”

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When Bertine was 23 years old, she got married and became pregnant. She also began to have some tooth problems of her own. She saw that her gums were bleeding when she cleaned her teeth, and she had small cavities in two of her teeth. As the dental worker, she was embarrassed to have tooth problems, but an older woman told her, “It’s natural to lose teeth when you have babies, Bertine. As we say, ‘For each child, a tooth’.”

One day Lucie, a dental worker from a nearby village, came to see her friend Bertine. Lucie had a young baby, and Bertine asked her a lot of questions about babies and about pregnancy. Then Bertine said, “Of course, I’m having lots of problems with my teeth.” “Why do you say ‘of course’?” asked Lucie. “Well,” Bertine replied, “For each child, a tooth.”

“But that’s not true!” Lucie cried. “You think you are having tooth and gum problems because you are pregnant, but I bet you are having these problems for all the usual reasons.”

"The usual reasons?" asked Bertine.

“Yes,” said Lucie. “How often do you eat now that you are pregnant?” “Well, a lot more than I used to — I have two persons to feed!” “And do you still eat sweet foods sometimes?” Lucie asked. “I guess I do,” said Bertine, “and more sweets than before, because I eat more often.”

“How about teeth cleaning?” asked Lucie. “Do you clean as often as you did before you were pregnant?” “No,” Bertine admitted, “I heard I was going to have tooth problems anyway, and I have been so tired lately…. Oh! Do you suppose that these are the only reasons I am having these problems? How do you know so much about this, Lucie?”

“Because I had the same problems, Bertine. I learned the truth the hard way. I had an infected tooth, and the infection passed to my kidneys. At the health clinic, they told me it is not necessary to have tooth problems during pregnancy — and it is even dangerous. I am lucky I did not lose my baby! That can happen, you know, when a tooth problem is not treated. We must fill your cavities right now.”

“You mean I can be treated now, before I have my baby?”

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“Yes, and you should!” said Lucie. “And you can take better care of your teeth. It is true that because of the pregnancy, your gums are weaker, and they can get infected. But this means you should take even more care than usual to: (1) clean regularly and (2) eat the right foods. You need to have strength when you are pregnant. An infection in your mouth does not help that. Because your gums are weak, it is also good to (3) rinse your mouth every day with warm salt water, and if you cannot get fresh fruits and vegetables, then (4) take a tablet of Vitamin C every day.”

Lucie then offered to clean Bertine’s teeth and to fill her cavities. When she touched Bertine’s gums, they bled, and Lucie said, “They will bleed at first, but after you clean them regularly for a while, they will be stronger. Bleeding gums are dangerous to a pregnant woman. The bleeding can increase anemia, which is a serious problem.”

“If a pregnant woman’s tooth has an abscess, is it safe to pull it before she has the baby?” asked Bertine. “Yes,” said Lucie, “you just must be gentle. A woman gets tired sitting in a dental chair for a long time, and sometimes you must give some extra anesthetic so she does not feel any pain.”

3. Keep your messages short and simple

Instead of partially teaching too many things, it is better to discuss a few things well. After learning what health problems the people feel are greatest, decide what information will help them solve these problems. Then think of how to share the information. Try to:
  • Use simple words. If you must use a big word, take the time to explain it.
  • Teach people when they are ready to learn. A sick person, for example, usually wants to know how to prevent his sickness from returning. He will remember what you tell him.
  • Repeat the most important message many times. Whenever you teach about staying healthy, remember to emphasize eating good food and keeping teeth clean. Repetition helps people remember.
  • Let people see what you mean. Use pictures, puppets, and plays.

4. Teach wherever people get together

Knowing where to teach is sometimes as important as how you teach. Instead of asking people to come to a class you have organized, go to them. Look for ways to fit into their way of living. You both will gain from the experience. They will ask more questions, and you will learn how to work with people to solve problems.
Talk with people where they gather near their homes.
Talk to women at health clinics and in the market. Talk to men at business and farming meetings. DENT Ch2 Page 17-1.png Talk to men and women at church meetings, in parents' groups at their children's school, and at community meetings.
Teach men and women at reading groups.

5. Teach something people can do right away

It is good to tell a mother to keep her child’s teeth clean, but it is better to show her how to do it. She will remember how if she actually watches you clean her child’s teeth.


An even better way for a mother to learn is to let her clean her child’s teeth while you watch. A person discovers something for herself when she does it herself.

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Pick out a child and clean his teeth yourself. Let his mother watch.

Use a soft brush (or for a baby, a clean cloth). Gently but quickly brush or wipe his teeth. Do the best you can even if he cries.

If mothers make this into a habit, the child will expect to have his teeth cleaned and will soon cooperate — just the way he does to bathe or to have lice removed from his hair.
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Now let each mother clean her own child's teeth. Teach her to clean on top and on both sides of every tooth. Ask her to do the same at home each day. At the next clinic, look at the children's teeth and see how well the mothers are doing. Give further help when needed. Always praise and encourage those who are doing well.


This page was updated:19 Feb 2018