The Oral Sensory System
ORAL MOTOR SENSORY INPUT
Some kids struggle with processing and responding to the oral sensory information they encounter and experience in everyday life. They may be hypersensitive or under sensitive to oral input, causing them to be resistant to oral sensory experiences like trying new foods or brushing their teeth.
How it works:
We all have sensory receptors in our mouths which allows us to perceive sensations like texture (smooth/crunchy), temperature (hot/cold) and taste (sweet/sour etc). Our brains also receive proprioception (another sensory system) for example from the joint in our jaw as we chew different foods with different textures e.g. a chewy sweet, a pretzel etc. Oral sensory processing
also impacts the way we move our mouth (e.g. talking), control our saliva, and produce sound for speech.
What is healthy oral sensory processing?
Kids with healthy oral sensory systems generally are not fussy eaters and eat a variety of foods with a combination of different tastes and textures.They are often willing to try new foods within reason and can tolerate eating foods with a range of textures and tastes. In addition, kids with healthy sensory processing can tolerate tooth brushing and visits to the dentist with little complaint. They do not seek excessive input into their mouth to regulate like biting or chewing objects.
What are some of oral sensory processing problems?
As said above, some kids struggle with processing and responding appropriately to oral sensory input they encounter in everyday life. If they experience a heightened response to sensory oral input kids often avoid certain food textures and can be described as 'fussy eaters' and often have limited diets. In addition, these kids may refuse to use cutlery as they dislike the feeling of a spoon or fork in their mouths.This resistance to oral input can be accompanied by emotional outbursts, making mealtimes a stressful place for all! Kids are often referred to specialised feeding clinics to help them overcome this issue.
On the other hand, children can experience decreased sensitivity to oral sensory input (hyposensitivity). These children may require more oral sensory input in order to help them organise their behavior and pay attention. Examples of this include kids who may chew, bite or mouth non-food items like hands, wrists, clothing, pencils, toys to mention a few. These kids are constantly looking for oral input to help them regulate. They may even make clicking, buzzing or humming noises to increase oral input.
Having the right and most appropriate intervention in place is paramount, client centered intervention is usually recommended by an OT. Here I share some general tips and tricks and activities I often recommend to parents when faced with this issue. Please note these activities are not specifically recommended for your child.
Oral sensory input can affect a child’s levels of arousal and potentially even change behaviors, helping a child become more regulated and engaged in everyday life.
Alerting Oral Sensory Activities for the kids that are hyposensitive
These activities provide the sensory input kids need to focus and attend better at home and at school.
- Vibration (electric/vibration toothbrush, vibrating toys on cheeks/lips)
- Blow bubbles
- Drink a thick liquid (smoothie etc) from a straw
- Eat crunchy foods e.g. carrots, nuts, apples, chips, pretzels, popcorn, raw veggies, toast, graham crackers, granola
- Eat chewy foods e.g. dried fruit
- Suck on hard sweets/chew gum
- Eat cold foods like ice pops
- Make an edible necklace with cereal etc
- Blow bubbles in water with a straw
- Blow out candles
- Whistle or hum to a song
- Roll tongue into a circle
- Play straw games (use a straw to blow objects across a table)
- Play with making faces with a handheld or imitating others’ funny faces: open mouth wide, sticking tongue out, smiling, frowning, filling cheeks up with air
- Eating snacks with sour/sweet tastes e.g. chewy sweets, lemon, lime or grapefruit
- Eating salty snacks (e.g. chips, pretzels, nuts) -Snacking on cold foods (e.g. ice chips, popsicles, frozen grapes)
- Trying snacks with intense tastes and temperatures e.g. add spice to food
Calming Oral Sensory Activities for the kids who are hypersensitive
- Sucking thicker liquids like milk shakes, smoothies through a straw
- Drinking from a water bottle with a straw that requires sucking
- Resistive chewing e.g. chewy sweet
- Dried fruits, fruit roll ups,, marshmallows, oranges, raisins
- Blowing bubbles, blowing up balloons, or blowing whistles and other instruments