Did you know that February is Dental Health Month?! If you don’t already teach activities of daily living (ADL) skills in your classroom, this would be a great time to start. Here are three activities you can use to teach about dental health this month.
Teethbrushing is typically the first ADL skill I introduce in my classroom. Why? Many of my students are not independently brushing their teeth at home.
Most kids (neurotypical and neurodiverse alike) have difficulty learning to brush their teeth. Now add in sensory, motor or cognitive challenges and this twice-a-day task can be extremely frustrating for some of our students. Explicit teaching allows our students to have repeated practice of the skill with a variety of levels of support.
The first thing I will do is observe the student brushing their teeth independently. This lets me know which elements of the skill they already have in repertoire and which elements I have to teach into. This is your baseline data.
Once I have baseline data, I will decide which chaining procedure I want to use. This will differ based on each student and their skills.
When using a chaining procedure, be sure that you have your task analysis posted so that your students can have a visual of the steps that they are supposed to follow. The Simply Special Ed Life Skills Bundle** has all of the materials you’d need to teach a variety of ADL skills. In my classroom, we use the adapted book to review the procedure prior to going to the bathroom. Then, we have the task analysis posted on the bathroom wall. This allows our students to access it without a staff member intervening. A sample of the task analysis is below.
**Curious to learn more about the Simply Special Ed Life Skills Bundle? Read Blogger Whitney’s post about setting up the centers here!
Teaching teethbrushing is a great way to start your ADL unit. My students usually love it too! Be sure to check with your administrators if removing their masks will be an issue.
Teach About Going to the Dentist
Again, many kids have difficulty going to the dentist. For our friends who are sensory sensitive, this is often an extremely overwhelming experience. I teach about going to the dentist in a number of ways.
First, a social story. I usually make my own with images of the student and their particular dentist’s office, but there are a ton of great options on TeachersPayTeachers.com. A social story allows the student to review what the office will look like and what the expectations are when you are there. I make sure to include anything that may be aversive to the student (“There will be a bright light so that the dentist can see inside your mouth.”) and something that the student will enjoy about the experience as well (“While the dentist cleans your teeth, you will be able to watch Paw Patrol on the TV.”) The goal of a social story is not to scare the student, but to provide a preview of what they can expect.
Visits from the Dentist
Another way I teach about going to the dentist is by having a dentist come to visit our classroom. Be sure to follow your district’s COVID-19 protocols regarding visitors to your classroom. In some schools I have worked in, there is a dentist that comes a few times a year to provide cleanings in the classroom. If your school does not offer this, see if there is a dental school near by or a sensory-sensitive dentist office in your area.
When they come to the classroom, I ask them to bring any of the tools that they would use in the office that can be transported. This way, the students are able to see and feel the tools prior to getting to the office. I have had dentists bring gloves, bibs, picks, and more to let the students interact with in a meaningful way. One office even brought a puppet with them so that the students could try “being the dentist”! If you can’t have a dentist come to your classroom, you can always try to have a virtual visit.
Student holding dentist bib. Feeling a glove on their hand! Practicing brushing teeth on a dinosaur puppet!
File Folder Games
One of the easiest ways to integrate dental health into your classroom is by using file folder games! File folder games are a low budget, easy to set up method of presented sorting activities. I like to use file folders to teach “healthy vs. unhealthy” foods for your teeth, sorting between toothpaste and toothbrush, and “what room?” sorts. For the latter, students have to identify that the toothbrush goes in the bathroom! I use these to supplement my other ADL activities as well!
A Dentist’s Opinion
I spoke to Dr. Jessica Kaplan, a pediatric dentist, about how we as teachers can best prepare our students to visit the dentist.
Arielle: “As a pediatric dentist, what is the most important thing a teacher or parent of a child with special needs to know before going to the dentist?”
Dr. Kaplan: “Prepping a child is the most beneficial thing for everyone involved (parent, child, teacher). Even something simple like showing the child pictures of the dental office if it’s their first visit can be helpful. You can talk the child through the process of what will happen days in advance to help them prep or even help them create a visual story with a booklet of the process outlined step by step.
Arielle: “If a child has unique sensory needs, what accommodations can be made during a cleaning or when brushing at home?”
Dr. Kaplan: “As pediatric dentists, we move at a pace that is comfortable for the child and parent. I’ve done many visits where all the child does is walk into the operatory and watch the light turn on and off. We also can get very creative, and we do cleanings in the hallway or with the patient sitting in the doctor’s stool… we always have a backup plan to make sure all parties are comfortable! As far as brushing difficulty, it’s something personal we’d discuss on a one-on-one basis but there are all sorts of toothbrushes and toothpastes to fit all sorts of needs.”
Want to hear more from Dr. Kaplan? Follow her on Instagram @dr.baby.teeth
Dental Health Month is in February, but you can teach teethbrushing all year long!
Try out these activities and let us know how it goes in the Simply Special Community Facebook group!