Oral Fixation

Oral Fixations

“Believe you can and you’re halfway there.”- Theodore Roosevelt

What are oral fixations?

Oral fixations refer to a strong or obsessive craving to put things around or in the mouth. During early childhood, infants go through a phase in which it is developmentally appropriate to put things in and around the mouth. This oral phase of exploration allows children to explore different things within their environment (biting, chewing, sucking on toys, clothing, paper).  Eventually, children outgrow this behavior by the end of their toddler years. However there are some children that engage in these behaviors long after infancy, which may be indicative of an oral fixation. It is important to eliminate any oral fixations, as it causes the individual to sit with an open mouth posture with the tongue forward in the oral cavity, contributing to lingual weakness.

Why does my child constantly put things in his/her mouth?

An infant places items in and around the mouth to learn and explore their environment. Sucking on items involves pleasure and can calm a hungry or teething baby. Mouthing and chewing is another way to explore and manipulate their environment. However, those children that continue to engage in these oral habits after infancy may be experiencing oral fixation. Oral sensitivity, timing of “oral phase” activities, and cravings may be some reasons your child is experiencing oral fixations

Oral sensitivity– Hypersensitivity! Children may be hypersensitive to objects in their mouths, and therefore may require/crave more oral stimulation.  These children will often bite, chew, and/or suck on any object they can get their hands on to fulfill this sensation!

Weaning off the ‘Oral Phase’– Timing is important in regards to weaning a child off of oral phase activities. These activities include weaning a child off a pacifier, bottle, breastfeeding, and/or sippy cup too early or too late. Children typically should be transitioned off the bottle and sippy cup, and to an open cup, around the age of one.  The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that infants be solely breastfed until six months of age and then breastfed in tandem with solid foods.  Although breastfeeding is recommended for a least the first year and then for as long as mutually desired by the baby and the mother, the continued act of sucking perpetuates the anterior motion of the tongue within the oral cavity and can influence oral facial muscle imbalance, adversely affecting feeding and swallowing skills as well as expressive speech skills. Karen Sokal-Gutierrez, M.D., M.P.H. states that children who use a bottle and sippy cup for prolonged periods of time flatten the tongue to draw fluid from the cup and push it to the back of the mouth for swallowing. This action is different from the muscles used to drink from a regular cup. Prolonged bottle use prevents the development of muscles that are needed for speaking and articulation because a child has not had practice using these muscles.

Cravings– Your child may be craving different tastes- salty, sweet, bitter, sour!

Symptoms of Oral-Fixations

  • Constantly biting finger nails
  • Constantly putting fingers in or near mouth
  • Excessive biting, chewing, sucking on items around him/her
  • Thumb sucking
  • Teeth grinding
  • Lip licking
  • Nail biting
  • Tongue sucking

Negative effects of continued oral fixations

As stated earlier, oral fixations cause the individual to sit with an open mouth posture with the tongue forward in the oral cavity, contributing to lingual weakness. In addition other effects include:

  • Separation anxiety
  • Immature activities (crying and tantrums)
  • Poor eating habits
  • Poor oral hygiene including drooling resulting from lingual weakness
  • Oral motor issues that affect the tongue, lips, jaw, and placement of adult teeth

What can I do to help?

Contact us! Speech-language pathologists specialize in helping to address oral fixations. We help to find ways to reduce inappropriate oral behavior. Together we can find out what triggers oral fixations, and from there reduce the behavior. This will benefit the child’s overall well-being and improve performance.

 

(Hutton, Thaashida, 2009)

 

-Pamela Leibowitz

 

 

 

 

 

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