Each February, the American Dental Association (ADA) sponsors National Children’s Dental Health Month to raise awareness about the importance of oral health. This month-long observance brings together thousands of health care providers and educators to promote good oral hygiene to children.
When I was a Kindergarten teacher, I was always on the search to find some hands-on science activities that could teach children about dental health. There are many fun and educational items available for the children to use in the science center. Several companies sell a “mouth” model and toothbrush to show the proper way to good oral hygiene. If this is not affordable, you can save and clean out the bottom third of a 16 oz soda bottle and spray paint it white (the bottom side of the bottle has bumps resembling a tooth), or a set of plastic white ice cube trays (flipped upside down) and some toothbrushes from the dollar store can be used as an effective substitute. You can also purchase disclosing tablets from several companies; with parent permission, you can have each child chew one and show them in the mirror where they forgot to brush, then let them practice brushing with their own toothbrush. My students were always so grossed out by the amount of pink left from the tablet on their teeth! I also did a science experiment with children about plaque and tooth decay (expanding children’s vocabulary too!) with yeast and warm water in a clear cup, then adding a bit of sugar to watch it foam and expand. You can also do an egg experiment (with the eggs substituting as the teeth) and soak the eggs in different liquids, such as water, milk, juice, and soda; ask the children to make predictions about which egg(s) will stay white, based on the items they drink. For snack time, children can assemble apple smiles with apple slices, soy or peanut butter, and miniature marshmallows for teeth.
There are also some free ways to incorporate Children’s Dental Health Month into your classroom. The ADA (American Dental Association) provides free promotional materials for children. A link is provided at the end of this article. Also, check with local dentists in your area and toothpaste companies to see if they offer free toothbrush and toothpaste samples for your program. Dentists may also be able to provide you with some cool teeth X-rays for your science center. Colgate offers a Bright Smiles Bright Futures Kit for educators and Crest offers free materials, lesson plans, and activities with book suggestions for reading with your students.