Tagged "jaw book"

Ask A Therapist: Child with a small mouth

Posted by Deborah Grauzam on

Hi TalkTools,

I am working with a child with a very small mouth, and the Yellow Chewy Tube is still too big and too hard for him. What would you recommend I use with him instead until he can use that? Thanks.



Hi Jennifer,

I received your question regarding your patient with the very small mouth. There are two things that I would try. You could do the gum chewing exercise that is explained in detail in Sara Rosenfeld-Johnson's book Assessment and Treatment of the Jaw, page 115.  I would just use a small enough piece of gum to fit in your client's mouth.  I would also try to work on the Sensory Friendly Bite Blocks (Purple) and gradually work up from the smallest and see if this would eventually increase the oral range of motion for your client. I would then revisit the chewy tube and see if he is able after working on the other exercises.  I hope these ideas help.  Please let us know if you have any other questions.




Elizabeth Smithson, MSP, CCC-SLP is a Speech-Language Pathologist who has over 10 years of professional experience working with infants, children, adolescents and adults. She earned her Master of Speech Pathology at the University of South Carolina. Liz is also a Level 5 TalkTools® Trained Therapist. She has received specialized training in Oral Placement Therapy, Speech, Feeding, Apraxia, Sensory Processing Disorders, and PROMPT©. Liz works with clients with a wide range of disabilities including Cerebral Palsy, Down Syndrome, and Spinal Muscular Atrophy.  She works through her own private practice Elizabeth Smithson Therapy, LLC in the home setting and in the TalkTools® office in Charleston, SC.

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Ask a Therapist: Teeth Grinding

Posted by Deborah Grauzam on



My 7 year old son with Down Syndrome used to grind his teeth and had grown out of it (we thought). He recently had surgery and the grinding has returned with ferocity. It’s only during the day and is worse than before. His teeth have been ground down to next to nothing. I’m at a loss as to what to do and try, but I would really like to nip this in the bud before his permanent teeth come in – he as 2 bottom ones so far.


Do you have any suggestions of strategies I could try?


It is not uncommon for children with jaw weakness or jaw instability to teeth grind, stop and then renew the habit when they are under stress.  Surgery can certainly be considered a stressful situation.  As I had mentioned above and reiterate in my book, Assessment and Treatment of the Jaw: Sensory, Feeding and Speech, the TMJ (temporomandibular joint) is the site of organization within the human body.  What your son is telling you, without using the words, is that he wants stimulation in that joint to calm himself down (to satisfy a need).  Once teeth grinding begins and the dentition becomes uneven the habit may continue after the stress has left.  The grinding continues to even out the biting surface of the teeth for chewing or may continue just because the child learns the grinding "feels good."  In either case, we know the grinding is detrimental to your son's teeth and we need to find a way to help him to stop doing it.


You asked for specific suggestions and here is what I would like you to do.  Since your son has the diagnosis of Down syndrome it is likely that he also has jaw weakness.  The activities taught in the book Assessment and Treatment of the Jaw: Sensory, Feeding and Speech are used as an alternative to the teeth grinding while addressing the root cause.  The activities will improve jaw symmetry, stability and grading.  Each of these jaw goals will also improve his feeding skills and his speech clarity.  If possible I would ask you to find a Speech-Language Pathologist in your area who has been trained in the TalkTools approach to muscle-based feeding and speech deficits.  She or he would be able to direct you through the two primary activities: "Jaw Grading Bite Blocks" and the "Bite Tube Hierarchy."  Used together these should reduce and hopefully eliminate the teeth grinding.  Additional activities in the book include: teaching him to chew gum without swallowing the gum, chewing on his back molars and a variety of other activities to address the identified jaw muscle needs.  

As in all cases it is best to read the entire book first to identify your son's specific needs and then to choose the activities that he enjoys.  An ideal time to practice each activity would be when he is teeth grinding.  In this way you will give him an alternative that will help him while acknowledging the fact that he needs stimulation to the TMJ. 

I hope this helps.

Sara Rosenfeld-Johnson, MS, CCC-SLP

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Ask a Therapist: When to start Tongue Retraction Exercises?

Posted by Deborah Grauzam on

I have attended two of Sara's workshops. I have a 7-11 year old student with a frontal lisp who still sucks his thumb at night and sometimes during the day. His tongue is forward with an open mouth position when he is at rest. I haven't yet checked to see if his swallow is affected. Should I wait until he has stopped sucking his thumb before I start tongue retraction exercises and using the straw, horn and blowing procedures? (I intend to give the parents suggestions to encourage him to stop sucking his thumb. I have Marshalla's, How to Stop Thumbsucking and Mayer & Browns', My Thumb & I.)



You obviously understand the relationship between thumb sucking and the frontal lisp, but...remember kids sometimes have prolonged tongue sucking because they are seeking stimulation to the temporo-mandibular joint (TMJ). This child sucks his thumb at night, so he may be using it to calm down and relax his body to go to sleep. The sucking during the day may be related to frustration or to calming when he is relaxing or tired. I would certainly look at when he is sucking to see if it is pure habit or if it is based upon jaw weakness, asymmetry or stress. If any of these issues are present, then a behavioral approach to eliminate the thumb sucking would not be indicated. Taking his thumb away could result in the formation of other habits to address the need (sucking on his tongue, biting his nails, grinding his teeth).

I delve into this extensively in my book Assessment and Treatment of the Jaw: Putting it all together - Sensory, Feeding and Speech. If there is a muscle-based component to his frontal lisp, then using a behavioral approach alone will not be effective. With that said, I use Pam's book myself and think it is a great asset to eliminating the tongue sucking WHILE doing the OPT interventions.

Your first step is to do an assessment of his jaw, lips and tongue using the Bite Blocks, Straws and Horns to see if there is a muscle- based component. If so, you may be interested in looking at my most recent book OPT for /s/ and /z/I use a combination of OPT and traditional speech therapy techniques, including auditory discrimination and training, in addition to production activities, to normalize the muscle skills needed for standard production of the /s/ and /z/ up to the conversational level.

I hope this helps, but if not please feel free to email me again.

Sara Rosenfeld-Johnson

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Ask A Therapist: Eliminating a Non-Nutritive Suckle

Posted by Chad Glasscock on

I have a client that has a non-nutritive suck that he uses often during therapy activities. Not always for calming purposes.  How do I eliminate this?

Suckling is used for calming, but also to organize the body by providing stimulation to the temporomandibular joint. Because there are more nerves going through the TMJ than any other joint in the human body, when the jaw muscles are weak and the jaw is not moving in a normal pattern for feeding and/or speech, children may develop or rely on non-nutritive suckling to provide the desired feedback. We often think children use the suckle for the way it feels on the tongue, but it is generally used for how it feels in the TMJ.

First, determine if weak jaw muscles are the causative factor in the habitual suckling pattern. In the TalkTools book and DVD Assessment and Treatment of the Jaw, I teach how to assess jaw skill levels and offers numerous activities to improve those skills. Each activity in the book or DVD can be used as an alternative to the non-nutritive suckle.

Second, the TalkTools Straw Hierarchy would be helpful in replacing the suckle by teaching the child how to suck. A suckle is a two directional movement, while a suck is only used in retraction and retraction is what is needed for standard speech clarity.
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