Oral motor weakness, or weakness in the muscles of the lips, tongue and cheeks, can cause a variety of difficulties. The most serious is swallowing difficulty which can lead to food and liquids entering your lungs and possibly causing pneumonia. If you suspect your child or loved one has difficulty swallowing contact your doctor or speech therapist immediately! Signs of swallowing difficulties can include, but is not limited to, a gurgly voice, coughing when trying to swallow, repeated swallows and residual food left in the mouth after swallowing.
More often with children who have oral motor weakness we see trouble with forming sounds, words and sentences. Some children only struggle with difficult to pronounce sounds like /r/, /l/, /s/, or /z/, others struggle with longer words or sentences. Children with oral motor weakness sometimes drool past the toddler years, or they may have an open-mouthed resting posture (people usually have their mouths closed when watching TV or reading a book).
You can strengthen the mouth muscles by exercising them just like you would the rest of your body. Use a mirror and have fun making silly faces! Some fun mouth/oral motor exercises are:
1. Stick your tongue out! Can you do it? If your child struggles with this, that's OK. Offer encouragement and keep practicing!
2. Stick your tongue out and move it side to side. Can you move it slowly? Can you move it quickly? Can you move it without moving your jaw?
3. Stick your tongue out and up toward your nose and then down towards your chin. Move it up and down.
4. Put your tongue up on the roof of your mouth, right behind your teeth. Open and close your mouth while keeping your tongue there. This can be really difficult! Keep practicing :)
5. Puff up your cheeks with air and move the air back and forth from the right cheek to the left cheek.
6. Smile and pucker. Make sure to make a really big smile and a really good pucker! Repeat.
7. Lick your lips. Go around one way several times and then change directions and lick your lips the other way. Is one way easier than the other?
8. Lick a lollipop, but only move your tongue, not the lollipop or your head (this can be really hard!).
9. Suck pudding or yogurt through a straw.
10. Chew 1 or 2 pieces of big bubble gum. Chew 10 times on one side, then 10 times on the other side, is it harder on one side? Can you blow a bubble?
Repeat each exercise, starting with 5 times, take a small break and then do it 5 more times. Increase reputations as you get stronger. Use a chart to keep track of your child's progress and reward improvements.
Make up your own exercise! Make sounds, clicks and tongue movements to keep those muscles moving! Use a mirror or video to watch yourself make funny faces and have fun!!
Photo by Karina Miranda on Unsplash