Oral Motor Skills refer to the movement of the muscles of the mouth, jaw, tongue, lips, and cheeks.
In order to complete actions such as sucking, biting, licking, crunching, and chewing, you need to have sufficient strength and coordination of your oral motor skills. If your child demonstrates low muscle tone in their oral motor skills or has decreased coordination it will impact their articulation when speaking, and their ability to eat foods. These children will most likely stick to easily digestible foods such as yogurts, graham crackers, or other dissolvable foods. They will avoid vegetables, proteins, and other nutritious foods.
How To Strengthen Oral Motor Skills
Here are just some examples of a few activities I have used during my therapy sessions.
I love playing Simon says in a mirror with my clients. I work with toddlers and have found that most children love looking at themselves in the mirror. You can make silly faces with your tongue and have your child try to copy them.
Place a small amount of food on the side of the child's mouth and have them try to lick it away with their tongue. Then do the same thing on the other side.
Pretend to be a snake and have your child open their jaw as wide as they can pretending to eat an animal hold for 3-5 seconds and repeat 3 times.
Have your child try to slurp up spaghetti or a fruit roll-up without their hands only using their tongue and even lips to assist.
I usually recommend tools to improve sensory input for these children including a Chew Tube and an electric toothbrush (made for a toddler, not an adult one). These help children with poor proprioceptive input as well as low muscle tone receive sensory input. I suggest that these items are used prior to a feeding session (15-20 minutes) to “wake up” the child's mouth muscles.
These are just a few exercises however, if your child requires assistance with Oral Motor Skills, I would highly encourage you to speak to your child's Pediatrician about receiving a referral for a Speech & Language Pathologist. They will be able to provide you with various exercises to address your child's specific needs safely.