Wednesday, July 15, 2009

The Witch and the Toothbrush

The Witch and the Toothbrush -
A Story about Dental Hygiene

A dozen years ago, Prof. Herb Judes, then Head of the Dental Faculty of Tel Aviv University, asked me start a dental outreach program in Israel. Outreach for me means reaching out to kids. After all, when you teach a child good oral hygiene, his teeth will likely last a lifetime. Soon we were bringing small and large groups of Jewish and Arab school children to the Dental school. The kids came from all over the country and received free refreshments, toothbrushes and other gifts and most importantly had an initial dental assessment carried out by senior dental students.

However, there was one small problem. I had a 'window' of 45 minutest between the welcome lecture and the actual clinical assessment of the children. In order to fill this time productively, I decided to cook up a short children’s play related to good dental hygiene and called it “The Witch and the Toothbrush”.

In the story, a witch whose broom is broken falls from the sky and meets a young girl. The girl makes a nasty comment about the witch's teeth (which were ugly as night). The witch loses her temper and casts a spell on the girl and turns her into a red toothbrush. The spell will only be broken if a young child learns to brush his or her teeth properly, using the toothbrush.

The play soon took on a life of its own. I asked the children, parents and teachers to play the various roles. We brought in props. We added a pianist, some songs, and my colleague Dr. Alon Amit agreed to play the role of the dentist (appropriate, since he is also a real one). The play was even translated and performed in Arabic!

The head of children's cardiology at a major hospital met with me and told me how important oral hygiene was in his field – would I turn the play into a film for his patients, he asked. I raised the money from Shari Arison's fund and the Braverman family in Los Angeles and enlisted my friend, the late great Dudu Dotan to play the part of the witch. Together with the cinema department of Tel Aviv University, we auditioned hundreds of children for the roles of the girl and boy, a talented scriptwriter transformed my story, and we even had animation. The thirteen minute film, the Witch and the Toothbrush, is now freely available in




About five years ago, Evi Wyler and I decided to publish the Hebrew version of this story into book form, and so far have we (mostly she) have donated about six thousand copies. The publication is quite unique because it contains this story but when you flip it over and upside down, you’ll find another one of my story’s, "What to do with a Used Toothbrush".

The English versions of the two stories are available free on, alongside my other stories about dental and general well-being with my popular characters such as Dr. Cluck, the Tooth fairy and Mel the Smell Dragon.

Ironically, after getting the movie filmed and the books produced, I have now gone back to the original play. We have recently performed in Tel Aviv and Netanya, and are headed to Kiryat Gat on August 4th to perform for 100 Ethiopian children, all of them new immigrants. The Jewish Agency for Israel runs a program which "...offers the young immigrants an embracing non-formal learning and enrichment opportunity that can help them in their lives in the Absorption Centers and help them get ahead in school. We believe that the tough, frustrating encounter with Absorption Center life can be turned into an enjoyable, fruitful and effective learning experience for new immigrants, which is why the program includes a variety of activities relating to the children’s world, such as general subjects like public health and life skills..."

Dental hygiene is of great importance, since children from Ethiopia often have very low caries levels when they first arrive in Israel. However studies have shown that after one or two years of eating sweets and other cariogenic snacks, their caries levels soar. We hope to give each child toothpaste and a toothbrush kit, and books for their classrooms and library.

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