Often it is asked, “When should oral motor therapy begin?” Believe it or not, as early as infancy. Infants who are premature, born with a syndrome such as Down, cleft lip and/or palate, cerebral palsy etc. all need oral stimulation for overall development, or for the development of skills needed for feeding. The mouth is an infant’s early learning center, and the more responsive it is, the more stimulation and knowledge the infant can gain.
Many of these oral skills can be handled by choosing wisely in the use of the kind of pacifier the infant has, or the kind of nipple on the bottle. Providing the infant with mouth tickles and oral play can create a path of more normal oral development.Poor oral development may affect breathing, dentition development, posture, eating skills, speech, balance, hearing, and stomach comfort. Infants noted to have low muscle tone, delayed general development, neurological involvements, reflux, regurgitation, poor ability to latch on for nursing, oral facial anomalies, etc. are all candidates for early oral motor intervention. The likelihood is that these infants will not transition into a normal swallow pattern within the first year of life. This can then result in more significant difficulties in their development, and will more than likely become candidates for Myofunctional Therapy.
Part of a good prenatal program, once a family is aware that there may be a complication, is for them to investigate starting early oral motor intervention. This is often the responsibility of the family, as the medical community has not yet caught up to understanding the necessity of good oral mechanics.