How To Teach: Brushing Your Teeth

functional life skills how to teach life skills special education teachers teacher experience teacherspayteachers transition Aug 30, 2021
Importance of Brushing Teeth
Clean the body, clean the hands, and clean the teeth! There is both a social value in being clean AND a health value in being clean. Therefore, it's important to explicitly teach students how to be clean. Regardless of age, some students will need step-by-step instruction AND justification as to why it is necessary to be clean, especially brushing their teeth.
-Parts of the mouth (where to brush)
-Where to clean the teeth
-How to move the brush and clean thoroughly
-Steps in the process
-How frequently to brush
Why Focus On These Skills
I’ve learned through asking that many students don’t see the ‘need’ to brush twice a day, in the morning and at night. People need to brush every morning and every night, period.
I remember a conversation I had with a young adult who said they only brush at night. I asked them what they did when they smelled something bad or gross. They said they close their nose, they say ‘eww, gross’, and they walk away from the bad smell. Then, I asked what someone they were talking to might do if they smelled a bad smell that came from their mouth. They looked shocked. I then explained that not brushing your teeth every morning allows other people to smell the germs that form in the mouth at night (you open your mouth to talk and the bad smell comes out). The student asked if the germs smell bad. I nodded my head. That explanation was enough for the student to see the importance of brushing at night and in the morning (especially because that student valued attention and interaction with peers and staff)!
When To Teach
Since brushing your teeth is part of a Self-Care or Personal Hygiene task, this skill can be taught with showering and handwashing. Brushing your teeth is a skill that can be more challenging because of the lack of visual awareness of the teeth and mouth and the sensory experience that may be unpleasant for some.
Be patient, take it slow, and give lots of rewards that aren’t food! It’s a vital skill for health and hygiene, so it’s worth the wait.
I’ve created a complete lesson unit of materials for teaching this topic. The materials are comprehensive (5 full lessons) and most appropriate for life skill lessons at the middle school, high school and transition level students. Below are some lesson unit highlights!
Students will identify the 3 sides of the teeth and 3 areas of the mouth to clean.
Students will identify when/what times of day to brush their teeth.
Students will identify the steps to preparing their toothbrush with paste, brushing, and rinsing.
Lesson Vocabulary
Bottom, brush, cavity, front, gum, spit, toothbrush, toothpaste, top, wide
  • Pre and Post assessment
  • 1 page narrative explaining the skill with and without visual text supports (to incorporate functional reading)
  • 5 skill practice activities to learn and/or reinforce the focus skills
  • Game for students to practice their skills (because learning is fun)
  • Boom Cards for practice or assessment
  • Student learning reflection worksheet (thumbs up or down)
  • Encouraging on-topic quotes (use as a classroom poster or starter for each class period)
  • 5 strategies for success (tips for being successful with the focus skills)
  • Coloring page with on-topic graphics
  • Skill mastery certificate for positive recognition and reinforcement
  • Data collection sheet on specific focus skills
  • Homework sheet to encourage students to practice the skill outside of the school setting
  • Word search of key vocabulary terms
  • Visuals for focus skills with age appropriate colors and graphics
Ultimate Goal
Clean the teeth with integrity. Not cleaning thoroughly can lead to bad breath, cavities, and tooth loss. All of these may cause the student discomfort, pain, or negative feedback from peers or employers.
Links to Curriculum

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