Oral motor Exercises: Key to Better Speech

By Rajini D

Last Updated: November 23, 2023

Oral motor exercises, also known as orofacial exercises, stand as a valuable tool in the realm of speech therapy, occupational therapy, and physical therapy. These exercises target the muscles in the mouth and face, aiming to strengthen and improve their functioning. Widely used to enhance oral motor skills, oral motor exercises are particularly beneficial for individuals with speech and swallowing disorders, as well as those facing neurological damage or muscle weakness in the orofacial region. In this article, we delve into the significance of Oral motor exercises, explore various exercises targeting different muscle groups, and highlight the important benefits they offer, especially in the context of speech and language development.

Significances of Oral Motor Exercises

Exploring Oral Motor exercises:

Oral motor exercises are activities that strengthen the muscles of the mouth and face, which are crucial for functions such as speaking, swallowing, and facial expression. These exercises can be particularly beneficial for children who have difficulties in these areas due to developmental delays, neurological disorders, or other health conditions. Here are some effective oral motor exercises for children:

Blowing Exercises:

  • Blow Bubbles: Using a bubble wand, encourage the child to blow bubbles. This helps to strengthen the muscles needed for breath control and lip rounding.
  • Blow Cotton Balls: Place a cotton ball on a table and have the child blow it across the table using a straw. This exercise enhances control over breathing and lip position.

Swallowing Exercises:

Swallowing exercises help in managing the airflow control through the throat area and effective usage of throat muscles in coordinating the movement of food into the food pipe.

  • Swallowing different textures of food
  • Practicing specific swallowing patterns

Sucking and Straw Exercises:

  • Sucking through a Straw: Have the child drink liquids of different thicknesses (water, milk, smoothies) through various sizes of straws. This helps strengthen the lips and cheeks.
  • Straw Pickup Game: Use a straw to pick up small paper pieces by sucking air in. This improves the child’s sucking strength and coordination.

Tongue Exercises:

  • Tongue Push-ups: The child pushes the tongue against the roof of the mouth and holds it for a few seconds. Repeat several times to strengthen the tongue.
  • Tongue Tracking: Encourage the child to move the tongue to follow patterns traced on the outside of the cheeks, enhancing tongue mobility and coordination.

Lip Exercises:

  • Lip Presses: Have the child press their lips together tightly and then release. Repeat several times to build lip strength.
  • Funny Faces: Encourage making various facial expressions like wide smiles or puckered lips to improve facial muscle control and flexibility.

Chewing Exercises:

  • Chewy Foods: Give the child chewy foods like gummies or bagels to chew. This helps develop jaw strength.
  • Textured Toys: Let the child chew on safe, textured toys or rubbery tubes to stimulate the mouth’s sensory responses and strengthen jaw muscles.

Facial Massage:

  • Gently massage the child’s face with your fingertips. This can help increase awareness of facial muscles and also reduce muscle tightness.

Singing and Music:

  • Engage the child in singing songs that involve making long sounds or exaggerated facial movements, which can be a fun way to work on breath control and articulation.

Important Benefits of Oral Motor Exercises:

Benefits of Oral Motor Exercises

Oromotor exercises play a pivotal role in speech and language development, offering a myriad of benefits for individuals facing speech and language disorders, difficulties, or neurological impairments affecting orofacial muscles. Here are some key benefits:

1. Improving Muscle Strength and Coordination:

Oral motor exercises enhance the strength and coordination of muscles involved in speech production, including the lips, tongue, jaw, and cheeks. Improved muscle strength leads to clearer articulation and more precise speech movements.

2. Speech Improvement:

Targeting specific muscles involved in speech production contributes to improved articulation, pronunciation, and overall speech clarity. Individuals can experience enhanced fluency and expressiveness in their communication.

3. Facilitating Swallowing and Feeding Skills:

It aids in strengthening the muscles involved in swallowing, benefiting individuals with swallowing difficulties or dysphagia. Improved coordination during the swallowing process enhances overall swallowing and feeding skills.

4. Promoting Oral Sensory Awareness:

Oral motor exercises help develop better oral sensory awareness, a crucial element for understanding and controlling oral muscle movements during speech and feeding. Enhanced awareness contributes to improved speech production and feeding abilities.

5. Oral Motor Skills in Children:

In children with speech and language delays, this exercise plays a crucial role in developing and refining oral motor skills. Activities focus on improving lip and tongue movement, as well as overall muscle tone.

6. Tongue Thrust Correction:

Oral motor exercises effectively address tongue thrust, a condition that can lead to improper tongue posture and dental problems. These exercises aim to retrain the tongue to rest correctly within the mouth.

7. Enhancing Overall Communication Skills:

Improved Oral motor function translates to better communication skills. Strengthening the muscles involved in speech production boosts confidence and fluency, allowing individuals to express thoughts and ideas more clearly and effectively.

Oral Motor Functioning in Various Aspects of Daily Life

  • Articulation: This involves the ability to move the lips, tongue, and jaw to produce clear and distinct speech sounds. Proper articulation is crucial for spoken language.
  • Chewing and Swallowing: Effective chewing and swallowing require the coordinated efforts of the jaw, tongue, and cheeks to manipulate and process food, preparing it to be safely swallowed.
  • Breathing Control: Controlling the breath for speech involves the muscles around the mouth and respiratory system. It is essential for speech clarity and volume control.
  • Facial Expression: The muscles of the face allow for the expression of emotions, such as happiness, sadness, or surprise, which are important for non-verbal communication.
  • Lip Closure: The ability to close the lips completely is vital for functions such as sucking through a straw, blowing, and making certain speech sounds.
  • Tongue Coordination: The tongue must be able to move precisely for different tasks, including articulating sounds, managing food while eating, and cleaning the teeth
  • Improving Speech Clarity: By strengthening the muscles involved in articulation, oral-motor therapy can help enhance the clarity and quality of speech, making it easier for children and adults to communicate effectively.
  • Reducing Drooling: Strengthening the muscles around the mouth can help control saliva and reduce drooling, which is especially important for hygiene and social interactions.
  • Facilitating Better Oral Hygiene: Improved muscle control can help an individual manage oral hygiene tasks more effectively, like brushing teeth and using mouthwash.

Who needs oral-motor exercises? 

  • Children with Speech Delays: If a child is experiencing delays in developing clear speech, oral-motor exercises can help improve the strength and coordination of the muscles involved in speech production.
  • Individuals with Neurological Disorders: People with neurological conditions such as cerebral palsy, muscular dystrophy, or traumatic brain injury might have impaired control of their mouth and facial muscles. Oral-motor exercises can help enhance their muscle function and speech clarity.
  • Children with Developmental Disorders: Children diagnosed with developmental disorders like Down syndrome or autism spectrum disorders often benefit from these exercises, as they frequently face challenges with muscle tone and coordination.
  • Those with Feeding and Swallowing Difficulties: Oral-motor exercises can assist individuals who have trouble with sucking, chewing, or swallowing. This can include young children who are transitioning from liquid to solid foods or older individuals recovering from medical conditions affecting their swallowing muscles.
  • Individuals with Oral Apraxia: Oral apraxia is a condition where the person has difficulty executing voluntary movements for speech despite having no muscle paralysis or weakness. Exercise can help improve the planning and coordination of these movements.
  • People Seeking to Improve Articulation for Acting or Singing: Actors, singers, and other performers sometimes use oral-motor exercises to enhance their articulation and control over their voice and facial expressions.

How and when should you practice with your child? 

How to Practice Oral-Motor Exercises

  • Make It Fun: Keep the sessions light and enjoyable. Use games, songs, and playful activities to engage your child. This can make it easier for them to participate and can help keep their interest alive.
  • Incorporate Variety: Change up the exercises and activities to prevent boredom. This can also help target different muscle groups and skills.
  • Use Visuals and Demonstrations: Children often learn better through visual cues and mimicry. Show them how to do the exercises by doing them yourself. You can also use mirrors so they can see themselves.
  • Give Clear Instructions: Use simple, concise language to explain what you want them to do. Break the exercises into small, manageable steps.
  • Provide Positive Feedback: Encourage your child with positive reinforcement. Celebrate their efforts and improvements, no matter how small.

When to Practice Oral-Motor Exercises

  • Regular Short Sessions: Short, frequent practice sessions are more effective than long, infrequent ones. Aim for a few minutes at a time, several times a day. Consistency is key.
  • Best Times of Day: Choose times when your child is most alert and responsive. This might be in the morning after breakfast or in the afternoon after a nap. Avoid times when they are tired or hungry.
  • Integrate with Daily Activities: Incorporate exercises into daily routines. For example, practice lip rounding while brushing teeth or do tongue movements during story time.
  • Before Meals: Doing exercises before meals can be particularly effective as it helps prepare the muscles for eating and can make feeding easier.
  • As Part of Speech Therapy: If your child is attending speech therapy, coordinate with their therapist to align the home exercises with their therapy goals. This ensures consistency and reinforces what they learn during therapy sessions.

Monitoring Progress and Adjusting Practices

  • Observe and Adapt: Monitor your child’s progress and adjust the exercises accordingly. If an exercise seems too difficult, simplify it, or if it becomes too easy, make it more challenging.
  • Seek Professional Advice: Regular check-ins with a speech-language pathologist or occupational therapist can help you stay on track, make necessary adjustments, and get professional feedback on your child’s progress.

Why are these exercises and Speech therapy important?

Speech and language development is a critical aspect of a child’s overall growth, influencing their ability to communicate effectively and engage with the world. For some children, speech-related challenges may arise, impacting their articulation, language skills, and overall communication abilities. In such cases, speech therapy and targeted exercises at home can play a pivotal role in fostering improvement. 

Speech and language development in children is a dynamic process that involves the acquisition and mastery of communication skills. From the early babbling of infants to the complex language structures of older children, each stage is crucial for building a strong foundation. However, some children may encounter difficulties along the way, leading to speech issues that can impact their daily lives and interactions.

Speech therapy emerges as a valuable intervention for children experiencing speech-related challenges. Speech therapists, also known as speech-language pathologists (SLPs), specialize in assessing and treating speech and language disorders. They work collaboratively with children and their families to identify specific challenges and develop targeted strategies for improvement.

Frequently Asked Questions

1. What are oral motor exercises, and how do they contribute to speech and swallowing improvement?

Oral motor exercises, also known as orofacial exercises, target muscles in the mouth and face to enhance strength and coordination. They play a crucial role in speech therapy, benefiting individuals with speech and swallowing disorders, as well as those with orofacial muscle weaknesses.

2. Can you provide examples of oral motor exercises targeting different muscle groups?

Certainly, Examples include lip exercises (puckering, smiling widely), tongue exercises (moving the tongue, touching it to different parts of the mouth), jaw exercises (opening and closing, moving side to side), cheek exercises (inflating and releasing), and swallowing exercises (practicing different food textures, specific swallowing patterns).

3. What are the key benefits of oral motor exercises for speech and language development?

Oral motor exercises offer benefits such as improved muscle strength and coordination, enhanced speech production, better swallowing and feeding skills, increased oral sensory awareness, and correction of issues like tongue thrust. They are particularly valuable for children with speech and language delays.

4. Why is it important for oral motor exercises to be guided by healthcare professionals?

Trained professionals, including speech-language pathologists, occupational therapists, or dentists, ensure that oral motor exercises are tailored to individual needs and goals. Their expertise is crucial in providing a comprehensive assessment and targeted treatment plan.

5. How do oral motor exercises contribute to communication skills and confidence?

Improved oral motor function improves communication skills by strengthening speech production muscles, boosting confidence, and enhancing fluency. This empowerment allows individuals to express thoughts and ideas more clearly and effectively.

About the Author:

Rajini Darugupally

M.Sc., Speech-Language Pathologist (9+ years of experience)

Rajini is a passionate and dedicated Speech-Language Pathologist with over 9+ years of experience, specializing in both developmental speech and language disorders in children and rehabilitation in adults. Driven by a desire to empower each individual to find their voice, Rajini brings a wealth of experience and a warm, genuine approach to therapy.

Currently, at Wellness Hub, she thrives in a team environment that values innovation, compassion, and achieving results for their clients.

Connect with Rajini to learn more about how she can help you or your loved one find their voice.

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