Nurturing Toddler Oral Development: A Guide for Concerned Parents

Nurturing Toddler Oral Development

A Guide for Concerned Parents

Parents often marvel at the many milestones their littles ones achieve as they grow and develop. Although most of the focus is usually on the child’s first words and first steps, there are many crucial stages of oral development for toddlers that lay the foundation for a lifetime of health and well-being. From speech to proper jaw alignment, understanding the stages of toddler oral development can empower parents to support their child’s journey towards a healthy mouth and beyond.

By recognizing typical milestones, identifying red flags, and implementing positive habits and activities, parents can lay the groundwork for a lifetime of healthy smiles and confident communication. Remember, every child is unique, so trust your instincts and seek guidance from pediatricians and dental professionals when needed. Your proactive approach today will shape a brighter, healthier future for your little one tomorrow.

Learn more about what you can expect in your toddler’s development below.

12-18 Months: Exploring New Textures

During this stage, your toddler is likely exploring the world through touch and taste. Here’s what to expect:

Typical Oral Motor Skills:

  • Mouthing and chewing on objects to explore textures.
  • Experimentation with different tongue movements and sounds.
  • Emergence of first teeth.
  • Chews and swallows foods without choking, with most bits able to be kept in mouth during chewing.

What Can I Do To Help?

  • Offer a variety of textured foods to encourage chewing.
  • Introduce soft-bristled toothbrushes during bath time for oral stimulation.
  • Read books with vibrant pictures and sing songs, encouraging your child to mimic sounds and words to encourage language development.
  • Discourage prolonged pacifier use, especially during awake hours.
  • Limit finger sucking by offering comfort in alternative ways.
  • Transition from bottles to sippy cups to discourage prolonged sucking habits.

Red Flags:

  • Difficulty chewing or swallowing.
  • Persistent gagging or choking during meals.
  • Persistent drooling beyond 18 months.
  • Absence of teeth by 18 months.

18-24 Months: Refining Motor Skills

At this stage, your toddler’s oral motor skills are refining, paving the way for clearer speech and better control:

Typical Oral Motor Skills:

  • Back molars may start to emerge, further enhancing chewing abilities.
  • Increased coordination in chewing and swallowing. Better able to manage hard-to-chew foods.
  • Experimentation with more complex mouth movements.
  • Rapid expansion of vocabulary and speech sounds.

What Can I Do To Help?

  • Encourage self-feeding with age-appropriate utensils to improve dexterity.
  • Engage in interactive games that involve making different mouth shapes and sounds.
  • Establish a consistent routine for brushing and flossing teeth, making it a fun and positive experience.
  • Gradually reduce pacifier use, especially during daytime hours. Try to eliminate pacifier use by 24 months.
  • Limit sugary snacks and beverages to protect emerging teeth.
  • Transition from sippy cups to regular cups to promote proper lip and tongue control.

Red Flags:

  • Difficulty with self-feeding or excessive gagging during meals.
  • Limited vocabulary or lack of progress in speech development.
  • Persistent drooling or difficulty swallowing.
  • Signs of tooth decay due to prolonged bottle or sippy cup use.

24-36 Months: Building Oral Confidence

As your toddler approaches their third year, they’re mastering oral skills essential for communication and overall health:

Typical Oral Motor Skills:

  • Clearer speech with improved articulation. Communicating in more phrases and sentences.
  • Increased independence in oral hygiene routines.
  • Transition to a more mature swallowing pattern. Chewing with lips closed.
  • All 20 primary baby teeth erupt by age 3.

What Can I Do To Help?

  • Practice tongue exercises like licking lips or making “silly faces” in the mirror.
  • Encourage storytelling and imaginative play to foster language development.
  • Involve your toddler in grocery shopping and meal preparation to explore different tastes and textures.
  • Monitor and address any lingering finger-sucking habits.
  • Establish regular dental check-ups to monitor oral health and address any concerns.
  • Emphasize the importance of a balanced diet and hydration.

Red Flags:

  • Mouth breathing or open-mouth resting posture.
  • Difficulty pronouncing and/or using words. Difficulty understanding language.
  • Complaints of mouth pain or discomfort.
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