Infant Oral Awareness: Developing a Healthy Mouth From Infancy

What is Oral Play?

Oral play is an important part of every child’s development, involving intentional awareness and movement of the oral muscles to support proper feeding and speech skills. Babies learn about the world by exploring with their senses – sight, touch, taste, and sound. Around 3 to 4 months of age, babies begin mouthing toys, babbling, and exploring objects with their mouths. They’re not just having fun, they’re learning about the world and building important muscles! Think of it like a workout for their mouths and minds, strengthening their oral muscles while learning about different tastes, shapes, temperatures, and textures.


What are the benefits?

Oral play and exploration develops the muscles of the jaw, cheeks, and tongue, which the child will need to develop fundamental skills. When babies practice sucking, chewing on soft toys, or making babbling sounds, they’re laying down the groundwork for future communication. These oral movements help them learn how to control their tongues and mouths, which are fundamental for forming speech sounds correctly.

Oral play develops the skills babies need for safe chewing and swallowing. It is important for proper development of the gag reflex, as well as strengthening muscles needed for a safe transition to solid foods. Babies need strong oral muscles in order to manipulate food within their mouths, chew the food, and swallow it safely.

Mouthing is calming and soothing for babies too! Especially as babies begin teething, mouthing objects can be a way to relieve pain. It can also help build a stronger immune system, by exposing them to bacteria and viruses in the environment that will trigger important immune responses. A stronger immune system means a lower risk for allergies, asthma, and autoimmune diseases.

Sounds great! What can I do?

Encourage oral play in infants by providing clean, safe objects for them to explore with their mouths, such as teething toys, rattles, O-balls, and blocks/balls with different textures. It’s best for the toys to be lightweight and have a place for the child to grip onto. Make sure to watch your child closely and remove any small objects that may lead to choking. We love the toys from Talk Tools, but many can be found at your local Walmart, Target, or on Amazon.

Activities like baby talk, singing, and reading to your child are crucial to develop your child’s communication skills. Make silly sounds for your child to mimic, blow raspberries, and really exaggerate the sounds and movements to catch their attention and show them how you are moving your mouth. Show your child how you chew and swallow food during snacks and mealtimes.

So, the next time you see your little one happily gnawing on a toy or blowing raspberries, know that they’re not just having fun—they’re developing skills they need for a healthy and happy future!