Saturday, June 18, 2011

Sensory Diet Ideas For Oral Sensory Seeking

The mouth has many sensory receptors: for taste, texture, temperature, wetness and dryness, movement (in the jaw and in the tongue, for instance), and so on. The information from these receptors is sent to the brain, which organizes and processes the information. When sensory processing is dysfunctional, children typically seek, or avoid, certain sensations around the lips, tongue, and mouth. A child with sensory issues may enjoy sour and chewy Starburst candies or spicy Buffalo wings because he finds these foods stimulating, but sensory seeking that involves the unsanitary and even dangerous habits of licking and biting are socially unacceptable and must be addressed.

A pediatric occupational therapist (OT) or speech/language pathologist (SLP) with the proper training in oral/motor issues can help kids who have oral/motor sensory issues. In the meantime, there is a lot parents and teachers can do to reduce unacceptable oral sensory seeking.

Offer chewy foods and/or sour foods. These give strong input to proprioception receptors around the mouth and can be helpful in preventing licking and biting. If the child's system can handle the sugar and artificial colors or flavors, you can give him gum, licorice, gummy bears, Starburst, Tootsie Rolls, or similar candies. Other chewy foods include dried fruit or sugarless gum. Sour foods that can satisfy oral needs include candies such as SweetTarts, but also lemons, limes, and dill pickles.

Offer chewable jewelry and other items. You don't necessarily need to use a food substance to address the desire for chewing or biting, however. There are many chewable necklaces and bracelets available these days, as well as tubes that you place atop pencils or pens so the child can chew that instead of the writing implement.

Address other sensory issues that are affecting your child. By all means, redirect the child to lick, chew, or bite appropriate items to lick or bite is important, but note that these behaviors often get worse when the child is anxious or frustrated by other sensory challenges. Just as you might find it comforting to chew gum when you are nervous, you may not have a strong desire to do so when you are feeling calm and focused. A good sensory diet can prevent oral sensory seeking behaviors by reducing the child's sensory discomfort overall. Lessening emotional stress on the child can have a similar effect.

Check whether your child is hungry or has a nutritional deficiency. Sometimes, oral/motor sensory seeking is related to being hungry or having a nutritional deficiency. If the sensory seeking persists, consider getting a nutritional consultation to assess whether the child is getting all his nutritional needs met or if supplementation is required. Giving the child a warm bath with a handful of Epsom salts a few days in a row, which causes the body to absorb some magnesium, seems to reduce oral sensory seeking behaviors in some children and is low-cost, safe, and easy to try.

Copyright © 2010 Nancy Peske

Nancy Peske is the coauthor of the book Raising a Sensory Smart Child: The Definitive Handbook for Helping Your Child with Sensory Processing Issues. She sends out a weekly newsletter of practical tips for parents and professionals who work with children who have sensory processing issues, available at You can learn more about sensory issues at

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