The Regional Child Oral Health Service wants to recruit Pip the kiwi, Sam the tuatara and Matilda the morepork to help welcome kids coming in for a dental check-up.
The characters from Aotearoa nature are already a hit with youngsters at Hutt Hospital’s Emergency Department, where charge nurse Steph Beddis introduced the concept of ‘distraction therapy’. The ED’s “Tree Hutt” waiting room for kids is covered in bright decals of Northern Rata, Wiki the weta, Poko the kakapo and others. Doctors’ and nurses’ scrub tops also feature the colourful characters and it all helps put infants, toddlers and younger children at ease, and less nervous about what might happen in examination and treatment rooms.
Now dental services want a bite of that child-friendly atmosphere too. Clinical director Dr Kathryn Fuge says their 13 hubs dotted around the Hutt Valley, Kapi Mana and Wellington already feature the yellow and black bumblebee ‘Bee healthy’ logo, and there are pictures and even DVDs that kids can look at as they lie back and say ‘aaaah’.
The service is keen for their 110 dental therapists and assistants to wear gowns and tops featuring the Tree Hutt characters. With laundry rotations and different days to accommodate, the cost of getting enough gowns made and printed up is around $26,000. The service is loath to use divert any operational or clinical innovations budget for such an ‘extra’, even though the gowns could make a big difference.
“We have about 74,000 children currently enrolled,” Service Manager Nicky Smith says. “They’re enrolled at birth, generally have their first examination by age 2, and they’re under our wing until their Year 8 at school.
“Some youngsters are reluctant to poke their head around the clinic door, let alone get into the chair. The gowns will make the hubs and mobile clinics seem less of a clinical environment,” Nicky says.
“We want their memories of their dental visits to be good, because they’ll pass on those memories and impressions to their children – so it’s a generational thing.”
Steph Beddis says all the Tree Hutt characters feature on a website and have their own stories – Lulu the huhu is very adventurous, Pip the kiwi is shy, etc. “Staff can relate these stories to young patients. It gets conversations going and their fears fade into the background.”