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Lesson Plans
Good Hygiene: A Healthy Smile

Taking proper care of teeth and gums is important to maintaining a healthy body, as well as guaranteeing a beautiful smile. But, the culprit that leads to tooth decay—plaque—is not visible to the naked eye and can only be removed by careful brushing of the teeth for two minutes each time. The activity below will model for students just how much time and effort must be put into brushing to remove plaque completely.


To help students understand the presence of bacteria in the form of plaque on teeth, and to reinforce their sense of responsibility about their own health.


  • Toothbrush for each student, plus 1 extra
  • A plaque disclosing tablet for each student
  • Water in a pitcher
  • Little paper cups (one for each child) for rinsing
  • Spit bucket (one per group)
  • Unbreakable mirror(s) to see their teeth
  • A picture of a big-toothed, open-mouthed smile
  • Magazines for cutting out pictures of smiles
  • Construction paper
  • Pencils and markers or crayons
  • Scissors
  • Glue

Preparation Notes:

  • Either find and cut out or draw a picture of a big-toothed, open-mouthed smile. Or, ask your dentist for a poster or model.

  • Plaque Disclosing Tablets: Ask the school nurse or district health office for plaque disclosing tablets or check to see if your dentist will donate them to the class. You can also find them for less than $5 for 40 when purchased online. (Small children don't need more than half a tablet.)


  1. Ask: Do you brush your teeth? Why? (Answers will vary and may include: to get them clean, because my Momma says I have to, to remove food). Then, ask for a show of hands: How many of you brush your teeth in the morning? Before bedtime? At any other time? Do you ever brush your teeth away from home?

  2. Hold up the big-toothed smile. Using the extra toothbrush, have volunteers demonstrate how they brush their teeth. Tell them food causes germs, or bacteria, to grow. These germs cause plaque to form on the teeth. You brush your teeth to remove the plaque; if you don't, the plaque makes holes, or cavities, in your teeth. Not only does that hurt, but if not taken care of, you can lose your teeth.

  3. Ask students: How long should you brush? How do you know that your teeth are clean? Divide the class into small groups. In groups, have the students come to you for a toothbrush and a small cup of water. Tell them to dip their brushes in the water; then, brush as long as they think they need to. Have them check in the mirror to make sure they think their teeth are clean.
    Teaching Note: Teachers and other adults in the classroom should participate in this activity as well to model good health habits.

  4. Next, have the groups come to you for a disclosing tablet. Explain that the tablet will show how well they have brushed their teeth. Have the students follow you as you illustrate how to use the disclosing tablet.

    • Place the tablet in your mouth, then close your mouth and keep your lips together.
    • Chew on one side, then the other. Move your tongue around your teeth to be sure the solution goes in front and in back of each tooth.
    • Spit out the remaining solution into the bucket.

    Have the students look in the mirror once again. Red or pink shows the continued presence of plaque.

  5. Have the students brush their teeth once again; this time, brushing more carefully to remove all the red or pink.

  6. Have the students discuss: Did everyone see some red or pink on their teeth after they brushed the first time? Where were the telltale signs of plaque? What does that mean? (Plaque usually "lives" around the gums and between teeth.) What did you do to get rid of the signs of plaque? What does this show? (Proper brushing takes at least 2 minutes to remove plaque.)

  7. Finally, distribute magazines and art supplies to each group and have the students cut out smiles that they like. Paste these onto the construction paper to create a collage of smiles. They should add a drawing of their own big smiles, including any missing teeth! Turn the students' collages into Healthy Smiles posters. Challenge the class to make up and add Healthy Smile slogans to share with the rest of the school.

Going Further
The American Dental Association (ADA) has sponsored National Children's Dental Health Month (NCDHM) every February since 1949. You can find great resources online, including posters and activities. Check with the ADA to find ways to help your students and their families become more aware of the importance of oral health.


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Updated on 3/22/2014