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Better to be a puppet maker than let COVID-19 string you along

Published:12 May 2020

Top: Oral Health student Danielle Butler. Mid: Her educational puppet. Below: the tooth-shaped earrings created by Oral Health graduate Samantha Barbeler.

When life gives you lemons, make lemonade. When COVID-19 stalls hands-on study in your Oral Health degree, the equivalent would be to design a puppet for use in school dental clinics.

Toowoomba dental assistant Danielle Butler has shown her mettle and resilience on a few occasions.

When completion of her Paramedic Science degree coincided with a competitive job environment a few years ago, she figured she could use some of the health foundations subject credits towards an Oral Health degree instead.

“At the end of my Paramedics degree I realised that profession comes with added health strains and the job environment was challenging, so I reset my passion to become an oral health therapist instead,” Danielle says.

“I had just moved to Rocky for the intensive hands-on Oral Health clinics when COVID-19 caused a return to external study, so I moved back to Toowoomba until our face to face classes return.

“At least the online study allows me to focus on theory so this time will have helped me by the time we are back in the clinical space.”

As an antidote to the COVID-19 lockdowns, the Australian Dental and Oral Health Therapists’ Association (ADOHTA) launched a craft competition to ensure students and recent graduates were able to keep their hands busy.

Danielle says she had been wanting to create an oral health promotion puppet for some time, to encourage correct tooth-cleaning.

Her 'Dr Fang' entry was announced as the 'Student Winner' of the ADOHTA competition.

Having the teeth as the focus of this puppet, required me to design the puppet pattern to fit around the 3D printed teeth,” she says.

“Luckily, I had all the parts required amongst my craft supplies. Making Dr Fang involved forming the foam internal structure, designing the pattern, cutting, hand stitching the fur together, painting his gums, spray painting his eyes and cutting down plastic with the Dremel rotary tool for his pupils. Finally, I sewed him a shirt on the sewing machine and glued his eyes and teeth in place.”

One of CQUniversity’s 2019 Oral Health graduates, Samantha Barbeler, also entered the ADOHTA competition with a selection of tooth-shaped earrings.

Samantha now works for Queensland Health in the School Dental Service, travelling around the Capricorn Coast in a dental van to provide services to local children.

"The earrings I designed are definitely a conversation starter with both children and parents alike and can be used as oral health promotion and awareness - and a little bit of fun," she says.