Q&A: How Can I Help my Child with Oral Fixation?

CME WebsitesBehavior, Challenging Behavior

blockquote_bgHow can I minimize my 3 1/2 year old’s oral fixation? He sucks his thumb, never took to the pacifier, and was breast fed for three months. His speech is becoming clearer and he has a speech therapist in school. He puts his shirt, cars and balls in his mouth (during soccer game) and he bites when he can’t get his way or as a defense mechanism, etc. Is this normal? Will it resolve itself? How can I help improve his oral fixation?

You may have read our article regarding oral fixation. It gives some ideas of what to do if this sounds like your son. The first step would be to set up an occupational therapy evaluation for your son, which you may be able to do through your son’s school via the 3-5 early intervention services.

I would also address this concern with his speech therapist since many speech therapists have expertise in oral-sensory processing skills as well. An OT can assess your son’s oral-sensory needs and develop a plan to help him either diminish this need or work through it in a more socially appropriate way. There are special therapy toys called “chew tubes” that therapists use with some children with an oral fixation. You might consider using a chewy bracelet or necklace so that when he feels the need to chew or have something in his mouth, he can chew on those rather than toys, balls or clothing. You can also offer crunchy foods that give a lot of impact and input to his mouth such as raw carrot sticks, apple slices, or when appropriate let him chew a piece of gum.

Also let him use an electric tooth brush rather than a regular one, since the vibration also gives input and stimulation to the mouth. You can also look for “Nuk brushes” in your local baby store (such as Toys R Us), which is a nubby brush similar to a tooth brush which your son could hold and chew and bite on. Biting other people is a common stage some toddlers go through, but by age 3 1/2 this behavior usually diminishes. However, since you mention that your son is receiving speech therapy perhaps he still does not have the expressive language skills to express his anger or frustration using words and is using biting as a way to express his anger/frustration. And, because he does tend to bite and chew on toys and clothing, his biting of people may also serve a sensory need for him. However, the biting is something that needs to be dealt with immediately since it injures other people. We offer two different articles on biting and how to handle it at these links.