Exploring the Oro-motor Development in Infants

Dr Madhavi Bharadwaj, a famous Paediatrician reveals that chewing lower lips is a part of the oro-motor development in infants
Chewing lower lips is a part of the oro-motor development in infants
(Wikimedia Commons)
Chewing lower lips is a part of the oro-motor development in infants (Wikimedia Commons)


Oral motor skill development refers to the function of lips, tongue, soft palate, hard palate, teeth, and jaw. The coordination of these structures is eminent in swallowing, speech production, and consuming different food items. Normal oro-motor development begins before birth and continues after 3 years. Regular practice with the muscles in the oral cavity, and maturation affects the development of oral-motor skills. There may be a delay in oral motor skill development in some children. Occupational therapists and speech pathologists can facilitate proper oral motor development.

Chewing lower lips, salivation, and tongue on lips are all activities that promote oro-motor development. This helps in the development of strong jaws. These activities occur during the teething phase and do not cause any infections.  Usually, grandmothers think that if the baby is chewing lower lips, they are prone to infections.
Dr Madhavi Bharadwaj, MBBS, MD in Paediatrics (MAMC, Delhi)

Oral motor skills development milestones:

Infants follow a specific developmental pattern in their oral skills from their birth. Facial features and critical reflexes are developed in the mother’s womb. During the first three years of childhood, infants experience structural and neurological growth. Children go through various developmental stages and patterns related to their oral motor skills.

  • Birth to three months: Baby’s lips touch the breast as a part of the sucking reflex. It helps to suck and swallow the milk.

  • Three to seven months: Oral motor movements like munching, and the tongue’s lateral and diagonal movement are developed.

  • Seven to nine months: The baby will attain jaw stability, self-feeding, and munching on purees and other lumpy food. They can move the food between the gums and cheeks. They can also demonstrate lip closure, and scraping food off from spoons.

  • Nine to twelve months: At this stage, rotary patterns will be developed. They can bite the food. They can also chew vegetables, and pasta, and eat juicy food.

  • Two to three years: At this stage, children develop stable jaws. They eat hard food by chewing, accumulating small particles into a bolus.

  • Three years and beyond: Rotary, circular, and semicircular chewing motions will be developed. The movements of the tongue will be controlled.

During the process, there is the development of soft palate, hard palate, nerves, muscles in the mouth, and other postural changes. Infants also develop speech, ranging from cooing, crying, blabbering, uttering small words, and further learning to talk full sentences.

Teething phase (Wikimedia Commons)
Teething phase (Wikimedia Commons)

How to diagnose whether the child has oral motor problems?

The problems can appear in certain ways such as the inability to adapt to spoon-feeding, drinking from an open cup, or accepting change in the food texture. The warning signs include:

  • Restricted nose breathing

  • Limitation in the mobility of the tongue

  • Keeping the mouth open

  • Frequent chest infections

  • Abnormal bowel movements

  • Gag reflex

  • Leaking of the food from the mouth while eating

Children afflicted with specific medical conditions often exhibit challenges in their oral motor development. These conditions include:

  • Cerebral palsy

  • Autism

  • Cleft palate

  • Pre-term birth

  • Less muscle strength

  • Obstructive breathing

The dysfunction in the oral motor development can affect the child in the following ways:

  • Inadequate nutrition

  • Lesser weight gain

  • Drooling

  • Communication problems

Salivation (Wikimedia Commons)
Salivation (Wikimedia Commons)


The progression of oral motor skills is crucial for a multitude of human activities, ranging from fundamental physiological tasks like eating and speaking to more intricate endeavors such as articulating speech sounds and upholding oral hygiene. This examination underscores the vital significance of acquiring and honing these skills for one's general health and quality of life.


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