Oral Sensory: “Awakening” Oral Sensory Receptors for Chewers, Biters and Suckers
This article discusses oral sensory items and toys that can help children that are hyposensitive to food, textures and toys. Affiliate links are included for your convenience.
When your child is a baby, it is only natural for them suck on bracelets, necklaces, chew toys, balls and other objects as their teeth begin to emerge. The teething process can sometimes be grueling for parents, but it is also a way for your child to begin developing their oral sensory motor skills, which “awakens” the sensory receptors in your child’s mouth for speech, language, proprioception (joints and muscles in the mouth), and mealtime experiences.
As your child grows older and develops these oral sensory skills, they will eventually adapt to different textures, temperatures, tongue movements, and pronunciation of sounds and words. Eating a variety of foods comes naturally to them, speech and language development comes easily and oral hygiene (brushing teeth, flossing, and dental visits) seem effortless.
However, children with delays in developing their sensory motor skills or those who did not develop their oral sensory receptors properly may have a disconnection in the brain. This causes children to either be very sensitive (hypersensitive or defensive) to tastes, textures, temperatures, foods and clothing, or under sensitive (hyposensitive) to these same objects.
Underdeveloped Oral Sensory Motor Systems
While hypersensitivity is a growing concern for many parents, today we are going to focus on children who show signs of underdeveloped oral sensory motor systems (hyposensitivity). Children with underdeveloped oral sensory motor tend to crave or desire more oral sensory motor input to keep their bodies calm and attentive. Parents often find if their child is hyposensitive, they constantly have something in their mouth or they salivate more than other children. They constantly chew on their pencils, have a tendency to bite others and suck on their clothing or tags. These types of children also gravitate to extreme temperatures like hot or cold, sweet or sour, and very spicy foods. What is even more fascinating is their need for movement and stimulation within the mouth so they often make noises, such as buzzing, humming, whistling, and clearing their throat.
Oftentimes parents will get calls from teachers saying that their child is being disruptive in class because they are constantly making noise, disrupting their neighbors or they lack attention and focus. All of these issues could be caused by them not having enough oral sensory stimulation to attend and focus in the classroom.
Awakening Oral Sensory Receptors
So how do we “awaken” those receptors in your child’s mouth to help them with the oral sensory skills they need to not only improve behavior and attention in school, but to also regulate their bodies for a less reactive system? There are many activities, toys and foods you can provide your child with to create more sensory awareness and sensory integration. Kids with underdeveloped oral sensory systems often enjoy toys and Chewelry from Chewigem to fidget with at school and at their desk. Here are a few other favorites.
Chewelry and Chewy Toys
Chewable necklaces and pencil toppers allow your child to stay seated at their desk and concentrate while chewing on items that give them the oral sensory input they need. Chewing on objects allows your child to use their joints and muscles (proprioception) for greater development and regulation.
Whistles may be too loud for the classroom, but you can still let your child use them at home. Whistles are great for chewing and for creating movement in the mouth. As your child blows into the whistle, their oral sensory receptors must engage when using their cheeks, lips, teeth and gums to stimulate noise. Using a dental inspector mirror is also a good way to get your child using their tongue and lips, which is important for speech and language. Have them look at their tongue and lips while they make different noises and sounds.
Using an electric toothbrush is also good for awakening the oral sensory receptors in your child’s mouth. A child with an underdeveloped sensory system may have a lot of saliva or drooling. The electric toothbrush provides them with an opportunity to have buzzing, massaging and sweeping within their mouth.
Food for Sensory Receptors
If your child has an underdeveloped oral sensory motor system, they probably have tastes for extreme flavors and temperatures when it comes to their food. To improve their sensory integration when eating, try some of these textures and tastes.
Textures and Flavors
Have your child eat crunchy snacks like granola bars, pretzels, popcorn, apples, carrots and other chewy fruits and vegetables. Try your child out with a variety of foods to see what they like and what provides their system with the best sensory integration.
Having your child use straws whenever possible is a great way to activate those sensory receptors in the mouth, especially with thick milkshakes and smoothies. Straws force your child to use their tongue, lips and breath (suction) to eat their food.
Children who like extreme flavors like sweet and sour, salty and sugary, and hot and cold, may crave foods that target their sensory needs. Try your child out with foods like pickles, lemon juice, salsa, sour patch kids, sour gummy worms, hot tamales and other types of flavors. However, if you provide your child with candy items, only use them sparingly to avoid dental visits, cavities, poor diet and sugar cravings.
Giving your child gummy candy can also help build their oral sensory skills because the resistance as they chew strengthens the joints and muscles in their mouth, lips and jaw. Have your child try Swedish fish, starbursts, licorice, gummy frogs, caramel apples and dried fruit.
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