Gum massage is a simple yet effective way to provide oral stimulation to a large surface area within the mouth. This tactile input can:
• help decrease oral aversions for hypersensitive individuals
• help increase oral awareness for hyposensitive individuals
For example, I once worked with a child who was mouthing inappropriate objects in the classroom - her hands, pencils, rulers, etc. So during therapy, I massaged her gums every 10-15 minutes throughout the session. She completely melted as soon as I started - she enjoyed it so much! I showed her parents how to do this at home, and eventually along with other sensory strategies, her need to chew subsided.
There are many ways to massage the gums, so I'll describe what is most comfortable for me (right-handed):
1. Place your pointer finger just above the upper middle teeth. Move it across the gums to the back right molars and back to where you began. Repeat about 3 times. Then repeat the same motion on the lower gums. .
2. Use your thumb to repeat the same movement on the other side of the mouth. Start above the upper middle teeth and move your thumb along the gums to the back left molar area. Repeat about 3 times. Then repeat the same motion on the lower gums. .
3. During each step, notice the child's response and adjust accordingly. Is he/she relaxing? Great! Is he/she tensing? Try decreasing the number of repetitions, slowly working up to more over time. Even just a slight touch is progress. Make a note of the progress and try to go further in the next session. Repeat this exercise several times throughout the day, as often as possible. It MUST be done on a routine basis to have effect.
Instead of your fingers, you can also use the Z-Vibe with the soft Brush Tip, which has pliable bristles for a gentle massage. If turned on, the Z-Vibe's smooth vibration provides additional sensory input and awareness.
ARK's Grabbers, Y-Chews, chewable jewelry, and/or chewable pencil toppers are another safe way to provide oral stimulation. These chew tools in particular all have long extensions that can reach all the way to the back molars for proprioceptive input to the jaw. The textured versions provide additional sensory feedback, and they come in three color-coded toughness levels for mild to moderate to avid chewing. To view all of the different options, click here.
If you can’t get into the mouth for gum massage, try doing it outside the mouth first (on the cheeks along where the gums are). And be sure to read this this article on oral defensiveness.
All my best,
Debra C. Lowsky, MS, CCC-SLP