Oral fixation is the constant need to put things in their mouths, whether it is sucking, chewing, or simply keeping an object in their mouth. Depending on the age of the child, this may or may not be appropriate. There are different reasons why your child may be mouthing objects. In this article, we explore some of the reasons why your child may be seeking additional oral sensory needs and activities to help them with this behavior.
Why do children put things in their mouths?
Putting things into the mouth is a very common practice for babies. This might seem like a bad habit or something risky but there are various reasons for the adaptation of such behaviors.
At an early age, kids are at a stage where they are exploring their world & environment. This is part of normal development for many children. New things excite them like anything. Though they can grasp things quite firmly, they have not developed the skill to pinch, poke, squish, or punch.
When the mouth is the only avenue of exploration for the babies, and as lips and mouth have plenty of sensory nerve ends, so, putting things to the mouth actually helps the child to figure out things.
Oral seeking behavior
Toddlers are used to playing with several toys and objects from an early age. They usually develop new behaviors of putting things in their mouth at the age of two years. In the developmental stage, 9 to 10 months is fair enough for exploring the usage of hands. Over the next few months, infants become more and more curious about anything and everything around them.
Usually, oral seeking behaviors are quite normal for kids at this age. It’s also very important that they are supervised with proper care under surveillance. The activities below are prime examples of kids performing oral seeking actions:
- Putting pencils and toys in their mouth
- Sucking their thumb
- Sucking and chewing their collar or sleeves
What is oral seeking behavior?
When a child chews, mouths, sucks, or bites non-edible objects and/or edible objects frequently, we will call this an Oral Seeking Behaviour. This is where the child actively puts things in their mouth to chew.
Oral seeking behavior can help kids feel more regulated and their nervous system, more organized.
Although oral seeking behavior can help children regulate their bodies and emotions, it can also hinder children’s learning if the child is constantly looking for objects to put in their mouth. If children are distracted by finding objects, this can affect their ability to focus at school and the activity at hand.
It is also important to note that not all oral seeking behaviors are the same, and some cause more harm than others. For example, chewing on metal objects and swallowing small objects like coins can be extremely harmful to the body. However, sucking on a blanket or chew toy seems harmless enough.
When does oral seeking behavior become concerning?
Pass a certain age
Children near about 9 months of age become a little curious about the objects around them. To know the certainty of any object they use their mouth and the action of chewing to taste and test and confirm their existence in their own way.
Within 2 years, a child ideally becomes ready to use their hands to hold or play with objects. Oral seeking takes place more actively at this age.
Some children after the age of 2 years old who still engage in oral seeking behavior may need additional support from an Occupational Therapist.
When children are getting obsessed with oral seeking behavior, it is hard to get rid of this practice by simply asking them to stop the chewing behavior. If a child has a need to chew, it will not work if they are forced to stop. In such cases, the greater idea will be to create a “Biter Bucket”. It contains many non-food objects that are good to go inside the mouth. Such as:
- Chewing Jewelry: Made for children with teeth
- Chewy tubes
- Rolled up washcloth to chew on: For those who often bite their shirts
- Mouth Toys to chew on: Harmonicas, Party blowers, etc.
Using this method encourages children to only mouth the non food objects in their mouth, rather than other noon food items, which may be less hygienic.
It’s an uncontrolled desire and abnormal habit to mouth any substance. Children who are affected with PICA will try to chew or bite anything and everything they find developmental to be kept in their mouths. These can vary from cigarettes to dirty objects or even coins.
The lack of idea about differences between edible or non-edible substances and lack of capability of such identification can lead a child towards PICA. There is a cyclic dependency, as PICA impacts on possessing learning disabilities. The National
It can be diagnosed like any other medical measure and treated as well. To deal with the medical procedures during diagnosis, doctors also evaluate other implications like intellectual disability (if any), developmental disabilities and OCD, etc. Behavioral strategies can be a great method to manage it.
Oral Fixation, Autism & How They Connect
Children who have
Sensory Processing Disorder and Oral Fixation
Individuals with Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD) may need additional oral sensations to meet their sensory needs. Therefore, children who have a high threshold for oral-motor may need additional oral input. They may seek this through chewing on objects, eating foods with strong tastes (e.g. spicy, sour), or enjoying different temperatures (e.g. very hot or cold).
Oral Activities for Kids
If your child requires additional oral sensory input, here are some simple activities that you can encourage your child to do:
- Drink thick liquid (e.g. thickshakes, smoothies etc.)
- Use an electric toothbrush
- Drink through a straw. Curly or wiggle straws are even better because they require the child to suck for a longer period of time
- Chew gum (depends on the age of the child)
- Increase snack times, specifically eat crunchy and chewy snacks
- Eat foods with more intense flavors (e.g. spicy, sour) (depends on the age of the child)
- Encourage your child to participate in heavy work activities including pushing, pulling and jumping activities
- Use chewy items as a safe outlet. For example chewlery or chewy pencil toppers to help children focus in the classroom
Summary & When To Consult Occupational Therapist
For a young child, mouthing objects is a method to explore the world and learn. However, for older children, chewing may be due to a medical condition like PICA, Sensory Processing Disorder, or as a method to self-soothe. For most people, oral fixations and chewing behavior is something that is limited to childhood, however, if it is used in stressful situations or oral stimming occurs in an adult it is worth consulting a health professional.
If it is due to medical causes, please talk to your child’s pediatrician for more information. If you have tried some of the above activities and still concerned about your child’s oral fixation, contact health professionals like Occupational Therapists or Speech Therapist for more information.
There are some different opinions regarding SPD. According to a group of doctors, this is actually a separate disorder whereas another group claims it to be just a condition of extreme sensitivity. Therefore, SPD does not have the official approval to be a medical diagnosis as of now.
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Oral sensory seeking – Why is my child still putting things in their mouth?. (2021). Retrieved 14 December 2021, from https://www.griffinot.com/child-oral-sensory-seeking/
Pica (for Parents) – Nemours KidsHealth. (2021). Retrieved 14 December 2021, from https://kidshealth.org/en/parents/pica.html
Sensory Strategies for Supporting the Oral-Seeking Child. (2021). Retrieved 14 December 2021, from