Hot Topic Blog - Mouth Development & Function
FACIAL DEVELOPMENT AND THE IMPORTANCE OF EATINGBy Ana Cláudia Lopes, Speech-Language Pathologist at SpeechCare in Portugal
Biting, chewing, and swallowing involve a great number of bones, joints, and muscles, all working together from the very first time we start experimenting with these processes inside our mother´s womb. Swallowing the amniotic fluid is one of the first things our oral and pharyngeal muscles do. Once we are born, we start the more complex process of feeding to get the nutrients, among other things, that we need. As we get older, eating becomes more and more complex and that is the way that it should be!
Currently, very few parents think about chewing as an exercise for their child’s face and mouth development. In fact, an adequate diet containing appropriate food textures plays an important role in the growth of our supportive skeletal structures for normal and healthy jaw growth followed by suitable dental development.
The transitional period from liquid to solid food (beginning around 6-months of age) provides new nutrients for proper growth and development. It also allows the child to gradually develop and reach the family's eating habits. This is a period of adaptation for both the child and the parents. It is a time for the child to try new textures, flavors, smells, and colors. This process requires a lot of dedication and family participation.
In addition to the normal recommendations given by the child’s pediatrician when it comes to food transitions, parents should try to incorporate as many different textures in their child´s everyday meals as they can until they are 12-months old. After that, the chances of having a picky eater increase as well as the chances of having orofacial problems. Some guidelines based on developmental research for the introduction of foods may be found in the article What do parents need to know when feeding their children from birth to 12-months of age?
We now know that if a child does not have good eating habits (meaning, if the child continues to receive her nutrients primarily by breastfeeding or bottle-feeding while postponing the transition to solid foods that require biting and chewing), we will have underdeveloped facial and oral muscles and an inadequate upper and low jaw growth. These issues can cause dental problems, a need for braces, and/or articulation issues when the child is older.
If parents sense any kind of difficulty related to their children´s food transitions, they should seek professional and specialized help.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Ana Cláudia Lopes, MS, is a speech-language pathologist specializing in the evaluation and treatment of feeding disorders for children from birth through the teen years. She has lectured in different countries, but she is currently working at SpeechCare (Portugal) where her main goal is to teach healthy eating habits to children, as she has found that this is the key to a healthy adulthood. You may email Ana Cláudia at firstname.lastname@example.org.