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Oral Motor Development: Is your child ahead of the curve?

March 22, 2017

Families are on the go these days. We have tons of products to help us keeping moving faster and faster. But these quick-fixes may not always get us ahead when it comes to oral motor development for our children. 


What we are talking about are sippy cups and sucky pouches. These quick-fixes might seem like a great way to manage our hectic daily schedules, but may be actually harming speech development and affecting jaw growth. Here is why: nearly all sippy cups and sucky pouches act like a bottle. They are invented for the convenience of parents, not for the benefit of kids.


The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends children start to graduate from bottle to open cup no later than age 12 months. A sippy cup is a convenience to be used in transition, and should be discontinued once the child is toddling around the house - in large part to prevent oral injuries. This is because every four hours, one child in the US visits the emergency room due to an oral injury from bottles, sippy cups, and pacifiers.


Several other important reasons exist for the  transition is to the open cup: to promote the child learning a neutral tongue position, promotion of symmetry in the growing palate, proper transition to development of an adult swallow pattern, as well as develop an appropriate position for proper speech. The use of a sippy cup or sucky pouch prevents this important transition.


Around 12-15 months of age, the tongue must establish this position as part of normal development from an infantile tongue position to an adult position. The use of regular utensils, spoons, open cups, and straws promote this tongue position and aid in this process. Straw use also offers lip strengthening which can also aid in speech articulation as long as the straw is short enough that the tongue does not anchor under the straw.  


While kids need hydration and nutrition, they also need to continue to proper oral motor development during their early years. If a cup must have a lid, it should have a straw with no valve. From a dental health perspective, these convenience cups should also only contain water because prolonged exposure to a sugar-containing drink promotes tooth decay. While children need adequate nutrition, the best way to obtain that nutrition is through real food, delivered at established mealtimes rather than grazing throughout the day.  Water between meals is very important, and should be selected over other drinks. 


If you must use a convenience cup for your child during transition to an open cup, use the following criteria to maximize oral motor development:

  1. Avoid designs with valves

  2. Use only short straw designs for straw cup (only long enough to get the lips around it, so the tongue cannot anchor under it)

  3. Use only water in these cups

  4. Limit sugar-containing beverages to meal times and only in an open cup at the table


Photo pictures an example of convenience cup that promotes proper oral posture example with it's cup-like design:  Miracle 360 cup by Munchkin. 



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