Ways to Incorporated More Oral Input at Home
Exploration of objects via the mouth is a typical part of development and for infants it is crucial for their oral motor and sensory development. However, as we age the amount of oral exploration and input we need typically decreases.
Our oral sensory system does many things; it helps us identify temperature, taste (sweet, bitter, sour, salty, savory), and texture (smooth, hard, crunchy, mixed…). It plays a role in our food preferences, calming/regulating abilities, speech sounds, teeth brushing, and other areas of our daily lives. Additionally, our muscles and joints of our mouth and jaw can send a large amount of Proprioceptive to our brains. Proprioceptive input can play a key role in helping our bodies and brains regulate, attend, focus, and process other information.
Children’s oral sensory needs can vary from seeking to avoiding to mixed; however, today we are going to look broadly at the oral seeker and simple ways to incorporate more oral input at home.
In order to help satisfy the sensory needs of an oral seeker there are some easy ideas to try:
- Crunchy foods (carrots, jicama, pretzels, these increase the proprioceptive input that is sent to the brain which is a go to for regulation
- Gum (for your older children that demonstrate the oral motor skills and safety with it), provides repetitive proprioceptive input
- Straws (coffee straws, cups with straws, thick milkshake straws, crazy straws, you name it), these easy to add suction tubes are great ways to allow a child to utilize many muscles of their mouth to drink. **the thicker the beverage (think smoothie, applesauce or yogurt consistency) or the smaller the straw opening (think coffee straw) the more work the mouth has to do to pull it through the straw thus the heavier work they will require and input that will be sent to the brain.
- Chewy tubes or chewlery, these allow children an appropriate way to channel their NEED to chew verses chewing on objects, shirts, clothes, and other things.
- Vibrating toys or toothbrushes, these allow for increased input and stimulation (it can be as easy as incorporating a vibrating toothbrush into their morning and evening teeth brushing time or having a toy or z-vibe that provides the vibration and chewable surface).
- Allow opportunities for children to do heavy work (this is pushing, pulling, lifting, resistance activities against the body, running, swimming, and things that require muscle/resistance), often times where there are oral sensory needs, there are sensory needs elsewhere in the body as well (and heavy work is a great place to start)
- Change up the temperature, try providing frozen foods (frozen veggies, frozen fruits, smoothie popsicles, yogurt popsicles, etc.) or ice-cold beverages can be alerting and provide more input to the sensory systems of the mouth
- Use the mouth during activities (blow up balloons, blow bubbles, make silly/exaggerated faces, whistles/harmonicas/kazoos, hum, make sounds with the mouth, and use those muscles in different ways).
- And last but not least, know that oral sensory input is a typical way many of us regulate, focus or attend we do it to differing degrees (we all know the person that ALWAYS chews gum, or snacks while they study, or bites their pens/pencils, etc.). Find what works and is an appropriate method of receiving effective and safe input for your child.
If you have kids that overstuff their mouth at the table or seems to gravitate toward only crunchy or chewy foods, you can work on strategically providing increased oral input prior to mealtimes to stimulate, alert, and “feed” the mouth with sensory input.
Also, make sure you talk with your friendly Occupational Therapist or Feeding Therapist so they can individualize and more accurately provide additional strategies and education.
Allison Heitzinger MS., OTR/L
Occupational Therapist and Feeding Therapist