Electric Toothbrush: “My Mouth Won’t Work” – Awakening Sensory Receptors for Speech and Language
This post discusses how the electric toothbrush and other methods can help with speech and language development. Affiliate links are included for your convenience.
If you’ve ever stood up in front of a large audience or been in a situation where you were trying to impress a cute boy or girl, you know how easy it is to get tongue-tied and no matter how hard you try you just can’t get out the right words at the right time. You stumble over your words or say something that makes complete sense in your head, but when you say it out loud all you want to do it bang your head against the wall. This is exactly how a child may feel if they experience speech and language delays. Their brain tells them to “talk,” but the muscles in their mouth won’t do or say what their brain is telling them to do. That’s often why we hear, ” My Mouth Won’t Work.”
Another example is when your computer gets a virus that doesn’t allow it to work properly. No matter how hard your computer tries to load the programs you need, it refuses to work because the virus is blocking its ability to function. It’s the same with speech and language as a child is developing. Typically around four months old a child will begin the babbling stage, which may continue into the first year or two of their life. Babbling and even crying are all signs or precursors of speech that tell you when your child is ready to begin expressing themselves (language) and pronouncing words or phrases correctly (speech). If your baby hit all of their developmental milestones except speech and if they tend to be quiet and don’t say much, you might think he or she is just a “good baby.” However, this could be a sign that their speech and language isn’t developing properly.
Awakening Sensory Receptors
What may even be a greater sign of speech and language delays is when the sensory receptors in your child’s mouth aren’t working. What are sensory receptors? They are the senses in your mouth that tell you when food is hot or cold, salty or sweet, crunchy or slimy. If your child’s brain isn’t “computing” those sensory receptors, much like our computer virus, it will shut down and stop working. Another sign is if your child has weak muscles in their mouth, jaw, tongue and lips. This may not seem important, but many of our speech students have difficulty placing their tongue to the top of their mouth to say the letter “l” and can’t put their lips in an “o” shape to make the sound “oo” for “boot.”
So what are the signs of weak muscles in the lips, jaw, tongue and mouth? If your child can’t do simple activities like lick food from their lips, uses his or her fingers to push food around in their mouth instead of using their tongue, can’t blow bubbles or pucker up for a kiss, and doesn’t laugh or cry as much as other babies, it could all be signs of weak muscle tone used for speech and language. Children with these types of challenges may also have what is called Apraxia, which is a neurological speech impairment and breakdown of messages being sent from the brain to the muscles in your child’s mouth.
Now that you have a better understanding of what to look for in a child’s speech and language development, we are going to introduce you to Tuck. When Tuck first came to our center he was shy and could easily be mistaken for “non-verbal.” I knew Tuck was a smart little boy when we first met because when I asked him questions, I could tell he had good receptive language, meaning he understood and knew what I was saying, but couldn’t express himself with speech or language when I asked him questions. As we walked through some of our normal exercises, I noticed he had not yet discovered his tongue and couldn’t use some of the muscles in his mouth. That meant we needed to first “awaken” the sensory receptors in his mouth with muscle exercises and greater exposure to hot, cold, sweet, sour and other food textures.
Even his mom and dad were surprised at how low muscle tone was preventing his speech development. “We weren’t aware he couldn’t move his tongue,” Tuck’s mom exclaimed.
After that first meeting with Tuck, I recommended his mom and dad to buy and electric toothbrush like you see here. Who would have thought an electric toothbrush could help with speech and language? The wonderful thing about an electric toothbrush is that the vibrations force children to manipulate the toothbrush with their tongue, lips and jaw, which is the first step to strengthening those muscles and awakening those sensory receptors.
“He loves it,” Tuck’s mom said. “You would expect it to tickle and drive you nuts, but he wants to keep brushing his teeth even when I’m done. He loves brushing it against the sides of his cheeks and the top of his mouth. To stimulate his senses, we use the toothbrush, soft cloth and other textures.”
This was one of the first signs Tuck was beginning to use those sensory receptors in his mouth to prep him for speech and language. After a few weeks, Tuck, who was normally quiet and wouldn’t make any sounds, began the babbling phase. It was a good sign his brain was getting ready for speech and language. You may think this idea is just for children with speech and language delays, but you’d be wrong. These types of activities are good for all children as they are developing their speech and language milestones as babies and toddlers.
Now before we continue, it’s important to remember that your child isn’t going to automatically begin talking just by using an electric toothbrush. In addition to all the exercises Tuck does at home, he also does movement therapy, speech therapy, microphone work and music therapy at our center for auditory stimulation. It is not an alternative to speech therapy, however, since we only see our students two to three times a week, kids need other exercises at home to help encourage speech and language development.
Another activity we asked Tuck to try was blowing bubbles. This was difficult for him at first, but now he blows bubbles and can also pop them by clapping his hands together. As he blows the bubbles, he is putting his lips into the “oo” shape, which will help him with words like “boot,” “cook,” and “food.”
In addition, having Tuck pop the bubbles by clapping his hands also helps his hand-eye coordination. As he watches the bubbles fall into his hands, it allows him to track the bubbles, which not only helps organize his brain, but will prep him for reading and writing as he grows older.
Tuck also loves chewing on chopsticks, which helps those sensory receptors. It helps him discover his tongue as he wraps it around the chopsticks and allows him to move it back and forth, up and down.
This is the one time that staring in the mirror is actually a good thing. We gave Tuck a little hand mirror like you would see at the dentist so he could watch his tongue and lips. This gives him the chance to see what his tongue is doing so he can move it around while watching his movements. This will help him later down the road as we begin working those muscles for “Ls,” “Rs,” and other letters that are more difficult to say.
After trying many of these exercises with Tuck, his parents began noticing huge differences in his behavior and overall progress. “He started smiling and laughing more,” Tuck’s mom said.
Even though we still have a long road ahead, these are some precursors for helping your child or student with speech and language. Remember to work with your child on these exercises every day outside of their speech therapy. The more progress that is made at home, the more they can learn in their therapy sessions.
Integrated Learning Strategies is a Utah-based center dedicated to helping mainstream children and children with learning disabilities achieve academic success. Our services provide kids with non-traditional tutoring programs within the Davis County, Kaysville, Layton, Syracuse, Farmington, and Centerville areas. Areas to find Integrated Learning Strategies include: Reading tutors in Kaysville, Math tutors in Kaysville, Common Core Tutors in Kaysville, Tutors in Utah, Utah Tutoring Programs