Tooth in fiction

TUESDAY, JUNE 11, 2013

Spokane Valley endodontist Blake McKinley Jr.’s book, “Happy Tooth & Sad Tooth,” published this spring, covers toothbrushing, flossing and the importance of healthy food. (Dan Pelle)
Spokane Valley endodontist Blake McKinley Jr.’s book, “Happy Tooth & Sad Tooth,” published this spring, covers toothbrushing, flossing and the importance of healthy food. (Dan Pelle)

Spokane Valley endodontist’s book for children demystifies dental visits

If you’ve ever tried to get a 2-year-old to brush her teeth or a 4-year-old to climb into a dentist’s chair, here’s a story for you. Or your problem child.

Dr. Blake McKinley Jr., a Spokane Valley endodontist, wrote “Happy Tooth & Sad Tooth” more than a decade ago before visiting his son’s preschool class to give a talk about his job.

He read his book with the children, distributed photocopies to all and followed up with an exercise resembling human chess, except with preschoolers arranged in an arch – like a jaw full of teeth – and flossed them with a piece of rope.

Presentation over, the book went into a closet in his office. But McKinley wondered once in a while if anyone else might be interested in reading it. Finally, he sent it off to a publisher, which promptly bit.

Published this spring, the book is available through Hastings stores, Amazon.com and McKinley’s publisher, at www.tatepublishing.com. McKinley expects it to be for sale soon at Auntie’s Bookstore and Barnes & Noble.

“Happy Tooth & Sad Tooth” tells the story of a visit to the dentist that goes easier for the former tooth. An illustrator’s cartoony drawings and brightly colored pages bring the teeth to life.

Happy Tooth is a smiler, his happiness thanks to daily brushing and flossing and a diet of healthy food without a lot of sugar.

At the dentist, Happy Tooth gets checked out, cleaned and painted with a protective “super shield.”

The dingier Sad Tooth, wearing a belt of plaque, is mostly frowning, its emotions – judging by its frown level – seeming to range from just a little sad to devastated. One exception appears on the page highlighting Sad Tooth’s hedonistic descent into soda pop and gummy bears, where it grins broadly despite the jagged cavity marring its enamel.

Spoiler alert: Everybody turns out fine. The dentist fixes Sad Tooth’s cavity, and it gets its own layer of super shield. Happy and formerly Sad, both gleaming, get refreshers on brushing and flossing.

The happy ending is among the book’s qualities appreciated by Dr. Chris Herzog, a pediatric dentist at The Children’s Choice in Spokane.

Herzog said he and another employee at his office take the book with them on their visits to preschools and day cares, where they pass out toothbrushes and cover the basics of oral hygiene.

Even the basics can be a lot to grasp for a group of people who sometimes wear Pull-Ups. Bacteria in the mouth feed on sugar left from sweet foods and drinks. Left unchecked, the bacteria produce acids that eat into teeth and cause cavities.

“The hardest thing we do is try to describe 23 years worth of schooling to preschoolers,” Herzog said.

McKinley’s book breaks down the important parts, Herzog said. Cared-for teeth are happy teeth – and a visit to the dentist is nothing to scream and kick about, even for kids with cavities. In the end, everybody’s going to be fine.

The American Dental Association recommends that children see a dentist by their first birthday. Those first checkups let dentists check for decay, show parents how to clean their babies’ teeth and discuss any habits that could affect teeth, such as thumb-sucking, according to the association.

After that first visit, the dentist can recommend a schedule for later visits.

The book’s main goal is to guide parents in their conversations with their kids before a visit to the dentist, McKinley said. Parents’ attitudes toward dental visits affect children’s attitudes.

Many times, he said, parents’ message boils down to “ ‘You gotta be really brave, because it’s really gonna hurt.’ It’s kind of like, ‘OK, that’s not exactly the best way to set the stage for what is going to happen in a dentist’s office, whether it’s my office or somebody else’s.’ ”

He advises a straightforward, simple approach: The dentist will check your teeth. If you have a cavity, the dentist will fix it.

A third-generation dentist, McKinley had an extended family full of dentists, too. His childhood memories include an uncle sitting him down teaching him to floss at a family reunion.

He’s a former president of the Spokane District Dental Society.

“All the dentists I know, their whole goal is to make everybody’s visit a good visit,” he said.

Click here to comment on this story »