Exercises for Atypical Swallowing in Children

In addition to professional treatment, certain exercises for atypical swallowing in children help them to control their tongue and swallow better.
Exercises for Atypical Swallowing in Children

Last update: 07 September, 2021

Some children may have problems swallowing because their tongue is positioned improperly. But by using exercises for atypical swallowing, the child can be habituated in order to modify this habit.

Atypical swallowing in children is an alteration in the way a child swallows that begins when they’re small. And, if the problem isn’t corrected, this condition lasts until adulthood. Instead of resting it on the palate, the child places their tongue between the upper and lower teeth and exerts pressure on them. The rest of the orofacial structures perform compensatory movements, so the issue affects them also.

The appearance of other affections linked to this incorrect way of swallowing is frequent. Open bites, diastemas, protrusion of the front teeth, mouth breathing, and difficulties in pronouncing some phonemes are some of the associated problems.

That’s why a correct diagnosis and comprehensive treatment among orthodontists and speech therapists is necessary in order to solve the problem. In addition, some simple practices at home can help to re-educate the tongue. Keep reading and learn about these exercises for atypical swallowing in children.

The treatment of infant atypical swallowing

It’s important to correct infantile atypical swallowing because of the alterations that this incorrect way of swallowing causes in all orofacial structures. The force of the tongue that’s positioned between the teeth pushes them forward, so it’s common for occlusion problems to develop. In addition, the entire shape of the face changes; speech problems may appear and the habit of breathing through the mouth may develop.

A young girl doing tongue exercises during an online speech therapy session.

Once the diagnosis has taken place and given to the complexity of the disorder, the treatment approach must be interdisciplinary. Orthodontics can correct anatomical and bite problems.

The speech therapist will work on the altered oral functions through reeducation and the creation of new muscular movement patterns that facilitate proper swallowing. Specific exercises will be used to normalize the practice that the condition has affected.

Exercises for infantile atypical swallowing

We’ve already mentioned the importance of an integrated treatment between the orthodontist and the speech therapist to correct the problem of atypical swallowing in children. It’ll be this last professional who’ll determine which exercises and movements are ideal for each clinical case.

In any case, practicing some movements to strengthen the tongue and the structures involved in swallowing can help solve the problem faster. To be effective, they should be performed slowly, feeling the work of the muscles involved.

Ideally, children should practice them in front of a mirror so they can see what’s they’re working on. Parents should accompany their children in the practices, motivating them to do them. Turning the exercise time into a playful space helps children to become more engaged in the activities.

As the musculature gains strength and mastery of the movements, the tongue will begin to position itself properly. As treatment progresses, the patient will notice that the tongue rests in a relaxed fashion (not pointed) on the palatal ridges and is able to generate the seal necessary for swallowing.

Tongue exercises

Toning and strengthening the intrinsic and extrinsic muscles of the tongue helps to master its movements. Here are some exercises to work on the tongue. They should be practiced little by little, but regularly, up to 3 series of 15 repetitions:

  • Keep the tongue narrow and pull it out of the mouth without touching the teeth.
  • Move the tongue upwards as if licking an ice cream without touching the teeth.
  • Tuck the tongue against the roof of the mouth so that it’s only possible to breathe through the nose. Open and close the mouth without detaching from the palatal support.
  • Stick the tongue outside the mouth and extend it down as far as possible, trying to see the uvula.
  • Stick out the tongue and move it from one side to the other.
  • Make clicks by pressing the tongue against the palate and making a sound. This should produce a high-pitched sound.
  • Open and close a click pen by pressing with the tip of the tongue.
  • Repeat “cha, cha, cha” and swallow. Repeat “chu, chu, chu” and swallow.
  • Place the tongue in the “n” position, contact the upper and lower teeth, and swallow without changing the position of the tongue.
  • Carry a cereal or a piece of bread or wafer on the tip of the tongue and bring it to the “n” position. Hold the food in place, opening and closing the mouth. This can be done with a lozenge to suck and hold until the candy is completely dissolved.
  • Stick your tongue out and in so that you notice how the larynx goes up and down (looking in the mirror, you’ll see that the Adam’s apple moves).

Exercises for the buccinator muscle

The buccinator muscle is located on both sides of the face, over the cheeks. During swallowing, it’s in charge of moving the food bolus towards the tongue to be swallowed.

These are some exercises that help to exercise it. Ideally, children should perform 3 series of 15 times:

  • Project the lips as if you were giving a kiss.
  • Inflate and suck in the cheeks.

Exercises for the lip muscles

Working on the strength of the lips in these patients who usually have hypotonic lips is very important. Three sets of 15 repetitions each are also recommended:

  • Squeeze the lips tightly together, without involving the teeth.
  • Stretch the upper lip outwards, as if massaging the corners of the mouth.
  • Hold a plastic spoon with a marble on it between the lips (without the teeth intervening), and prevent the marble from falling. You can add the displacement of the marble from one place to another.
  • Suck on spaghetti or other food that slips easily between the lips.
  • Suck heavy foods, such as yogurt, through straws.

Exercises for chewing and swallowing muscles

A speech therapist working with a little boy.

During chewing, several muscles are involved whose function is to generate rotational and crushing movements of the food. The masseter, temporalis, and buccinators play a very important role.

The isthmus of the fauces is located in the posterior sector of the mouth and communicates with the buccopharynx. Working on the pharyngeal and velopharyngeal muscles found there is also important.

Here are some exercises:

  • Draw an “o” with the jaw.
  • Move the jaw forward and backward.
  • Chew food by making rotational movements. Observe yourself in front of a mirror.
  • Put a lollipop in the mouth and move it around. Move it from one side to the other, simulating the movement of the food bolus inside the mouth.
  • Swallow water while smiling and with the mouth open.
  • Place a rubber band on the tip of the tongue and try to remove it only with the movements of the tongue, without the intervention of the teeth.
  • Position the mouth as if yawning and force a yawn.

Some more tips for atypical swallowing in children

Paying attention to some aspects when eating will also help to correct this habit. It’s important to chew with the molars and the mouth closed, for example. In addition, it’s important not to move the head or contract the muscles around the mouth when swallowing.

Another factor to consider is the importance of keeping the mouth closed during the day. Also, avoid having the tongue between the teeth.

As parents, it’s essential to get ahead of these types of problems to keep them from becoming habitual. Avoiding habits or customs that may favor their appearance is ideal.

Also, regular dental checkups from an early age make a difference, as this helps to detect any problem early on and address it immediately, often avoiding damage and consequences that become more severe as time goes by.

And although there are exercises to help correct atypical swallowing in children, as we’ve already mentioned, they’re not a substitute for professional treatment by speech therapists and orthodontists. Comprehensive treatment is the best solution for this mouth condition.

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