When I was teaching dental health to my son a couple of weeks ago, I wanted him to learn the basic parts of a tooth. I wanted him to understand that there’s more to a tooth than what we can see in our mouths. But I wasn’t sure how well as a 5 year old he would grasp that, so I thought it would be best to speak his love language: Play-doh!
I tried this homemade play-doh recipe for our project and it was really great! I left most of the play-doh white, but added a little red and a little yellow food coloring to some of it to make the other colors.
I had my son start out by using the red play-doh to make a small tooth shape. He was able to do this pretty easily on his own. This part will eventually represent the pulp.
Next, he made a long snake shape out of the yellow play-doh and wrapped it around the outside of the red tooth. This will represent the dentin.
Then, I had him make another long snake shape out of white play-doh, but this time thicker, and wrap it around the outside of the tooth. This will represent the enamel.
With just a little shaping here and there to maintains its tooth shape, we were done!
After the tooth model was made, we discussed the parts of a tooth and what their jobs were. I cut out labels for each part of the tooth and we used yarn to show where those parts were on our model.
I was pretty blown away after talking about how the dentin was porous like a sponge to see him grab a pencil and start poking holes in the play-doh dentin. At first I said, “No, wait! What are you doing?”, thinking he was just messing around. But, he said, “You said it was porous like a sponge so I’m putting holes in it like a sponge.” Sometimes we never know just all those little brains are absorbing!
We ended the activity with him labeling a diagram of a tooth by gluing on labels to show each part. By using a concrete model first, it’s much easier for kids to move on to a more abstract concept.
This activity is part of my larger dental health unit that you can find here. It includes a week-long lesson plan with dental-themed math, science, reading, phonics, writing, and art activities.