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Oral Aversion & Oral Fixation Help

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Medically Reviewed By Colgate Global Scientific Communications

Babies are always associated with pacifiers and thumb sucking. This oral fixation is entirely normal in the early developmental year.s As they explore their new world, they tend to fixate on toys, faces, mirrors and put whatever they can get their hands on in their mouth. However, monitoring your child's oral fixation habits is essential. Oral fixation phases that continue beyond the age of two can negatively impact the development of their teeth, jaw, and speech. Read on for info on child oral fixations and aversions, what is normal and what to be concerned about.

What is Oral Fixation?

Oral fixations are self-soothing behaviors that are developmentally appropriate for babies. Cravings to put something in their mouth are met with a reward. This includes biting, chewing, or sucking on body parts or non-food objects. Oral fixations in a child’s infant and toddler years help them learn about the world around them.

Examples of oral fixations include:

  • Chewing on fingers or cheeks
  • Grinding teeth
  • Licking objects
  • Nail-biting
  • Thumb sucking

How Do Oral Fixations Develop?

Self-stimulating or "stimming" is instinctual for infants. They receive a sensory input and calming feeling when their craving to put something in their mouth is met. It can be a way to cope and settle anxious energy.

Beyond the age of three, children will explore more with their hands, so oral fixation is less common. A child could continue to self-regulate through oral fixation when they feel overwhelmed because they haven't developed another way to cope with overstimulation.

Treatment and Oral Fixation Help

Oral fixations are a normal part of childhood development and children typically outgrow their oral fixation in their toddler years. It’s important to wean your child from pacifiers and bottles to avoid the adverse effects of prolonged dependence on them.

If you’re concerned with your child’s oral fixation, try to identify the triggers in their environment that lead to stimming and work to reduce the patterns that lead to the behavior.

Chewy foods are positive ways to redirect an oral fixation. Consider healthy snacks like:

  • Popcorn
  • Celery
  • String cheese
  • Rice cakes
  • Thick smoothies

What Are The Negative Effects of Oral Fixation?

Some oral fixation habits may result in the need for extensive orthodontic treatment for your child down the line. Choking hazards are a concern and putting dirty items in their mouth can lead to illness and introduce harmful bacteria to their body. Other negative impacts of prolonged oral fixations in children include:

  • Hindered expressive speech skills
  • Crooked teeth
  • Adult Teeth Placement
  • Separation anxiety
  • Picky eating
  • Tantrums past the typical age range

If you have concerns about your child’s sensory behavior involving oral fixation, seek professional assistance. Pediatricians, speech pathologists and occupational therapists are equipped with many resources to address any problematic behavior stemming from an oral fixation and aversion.

Oral Care Center articles are reviewed by an oral health medical professional. This information is for educational purposes only. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always seek the advice of your dentist, physician or other qualified healthcare provider. 

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