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Our boy is a few months away from his 4th birthday... but he still puts darn near everything in his mouth. We are constantly talking to him about what should and should not go in his mouth, only food and your toothbrush... not toys, not sticks, not random junk you picked up off the floor, not napkins, etc. But it seems to just go in one ear and out the other. Even though he's told me he understands, and has sat there and told me "not in mouth" for various things, he still does it.

He's well past teething; they're all in. (Our dentist has even taken an x-ray to confirm that in the front since he's only got 3 front incisors.)

It does not appear to be hunger related. He routinely eats a good breakfast, lunch, afternoon snack and dinner. There doesn't seem to be a difference between days that he eats at day care and days that he eats with us; they report that he usually eats his whole meal, sometimes asking for more... pretty much the same thing we see. On several occasions when he's been seen chewing on toys, he has had the partial remains of a meal sitting on the table that he walked away from saying he was done.

When should we start to get worried? Any other suggestions for helping him stop this? (Aside from the choking concerns, the cleanliness/disease issues, and the various bad things that could happen to his GI tract if he swallowed something he shouldn't... there's some concern about what he's doing to his teeth... daycare just called and informed us he's had a piece of random blue pastic stuck between his front teeth for a while before they managed to get it out.)

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4 Answers 4

You might consider consulting with a speech therapist. They deal with all sorts of sensory issues with the mouth, not just speech. Other than that, my only thought is that kids that age have a hard time just being told no. If I tell my 4 year-old to stop something, he just stands there not knowing what to do. You have to provide them an alternate strategy, maybe something safe to chew instead, like sugarless gum, although the thought of a boy that age with a regular supply of chewing gum is scary in itself.

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Good thought, I'll ask his speech teacher (he already has one). And yeah, the gum idea is horrifying. We've tried a couple of alternatives he was allowed to chew on... they weren't preferable apparently. –  cabbey May 31 '11 at 22:59

I know this is an outside chance, but any chance this could be to do with his eating patterns? Maybe he's getting hungrier at different times of the day to the rest of the family.

Does your childcare provide healthy snack times between meals?

Does he eat properly at meal times and does he eat well during breakfast?

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Very good thought, and one we considered as well but I forgot to mention. I'll update. –  cabbey Jun 1 '11 at 4:08

It's probably just due to habit. Your child may have more difficulty of getting rid of habits, and the putting things in his mouth is probably not deliberate, just a habit, like the way someone would tattoo on the table, or a special way of sitting, etc.

Try to help him out of this habit by developing another habit, and that is to keep his hands at his side when not doing anything. This is a good habit for children to form because it keeps their limbs from knocking things around.

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I am a speech therapist and I have several children who exhibit mouthing behaviors. For some children, it appears that their sensory systems NEED more input and the mouth is rich in sensory receptors.

There may even be a connection in his need for speech services and his mouthing behavior. Some children have speech problems because they do not have good awareness of the movements of the parts of their mouth that form words. It seems that the area of the brain that controls the mouth needs more information to do a better job. So it creates a "craving" or seeks that information by direct contact with the world through the mouth.

Perhaps your therapist can teach you some oral exercises that you can do with him to give him some intense and appropriate stimulation. Many of my little ones benefit from a vibrating toothbrush or a variety of blowing toys. A Jiggler is a vibrating toy that many of my younger patients enjoy. Chewing on licorice, beef jerky, taffy or other chewy substances is also often satisfying for others. Sucking games with straws and long crazy straws also provide age appropriate oral stimulation for some. Strong flavors will satisfy many oral sensory seekers, too.

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