Most parents know about the benefits of using teethers when your baby has sore gums. Biting on these toys can be soothing for teething babies and many parents use them for this purpose. You may not know that these tools can (and should!) be used for many other reasons! Teethers have quite a few benefits beyond teething.
Benefits of Teethers for Oral Motor Skills
One of the greatest benefits of using teethers is the way the mouth moves while using them. When baby plays with them, they move their tongue, lips, jaw, and cheeks in new ways. This can help to strengthen the mouth and prepare baby for eating solids. When the teether moves around inside baby’s mouth, their tongue will reflexively follow the stimulus (just as it would gravitate toward food in the mouth when baby eats), which can allow for movements baby has not yet experienced. They can also practice chewing skills with teethers, possibly for the first time, and work on building jaw strength.
Benefits of Teethers for Oral Sensory Stimulation
Teethers are beneficial for stimulating the touch receptors in the mouth. This can be beneficial both for babies that are hypersensitive (overly responsive) as well as hyposensitive (under responsive). Hypersensitive babies may feel touch more intensely and therefore tend to avoid stimulation. They may become upset when their face or mouth is touched and may not put toys in their mouth very often. Hyposensitive babies may have less awareness within their mouth and may crave more frequent and intense stimulation. This can sometimes show up as babies who drool excessively due to lack of oral awareness or who constantly have to be sucking on a pacifier or have something in their mouth.
In either of these situations, providing intentional stimulation to the mouth can be beneficial in order to “normalize” touch sensation within and around the mouth. Teethers are an easy and fun way to do this. Many teethers have textured surfaces which add additional stimulation. And you can always refrigerate or freeze them to add an even stronger sensation. If baby has started eating solids, you can dip teething toys in pureed foods and if not, you can dip them in formula or breastmilk. This adds in the sense of taste in addition to texture.
Benefits of Using Teething Toys for Babies with Tongue Tie
All babies can benefit from using teething toys! But babies with tethered oral tissues, such as tongue or lip tie especially benefit from using teethers. Ties are tight or shortened tissue that can cause restrictions in movement. This restriction can cause oral motor dysfunction and sensory related issues within the mouth. For example, a baby’s palate (the roof of their mouth), may become extra sensitive if the tongue can’t elevate to reach it and the palate is therefore not used to being touched. Using teethers can help to encourage movement of the oral structures (tongue, lips, jaw, and cheeks) and can help to provide important sensory stimulation to the mouth. If your baby is either preparing to have a tongue or lip tie release or has recently had the procedure, teething toys may be especially helpful.
What Age Should I Introduce Teethers to My Baby?
Babies gain the ability to reach for toys in the 3rd month. This is a great time to allow babies to hold teethers on their own and bring them to their mouth to play with. Before 3 months, you can try holding onto the teether yourself and offering it to baby, if they cannot yet do this themselves.
Best Teethers for Babies
There are an endless amount of options out there, so how do you know which teether is best for your baby? Here are some qualities to look for in a teething toy:
Long enough to go far back in the mouth
When you think of teethers, you may picture a silicone ring with bumps on it and gel inside. While there is nothing wrong with using this type of teether, this shape does not offer the same benefits that a long edge teether or stick shaped teether does. A straight and long teether goes further back into the mouth which is great for babies who have sensitive mouths or who have a hyperactive gag reflex. This shape also helps to stimulate a chewing response. A longer teether is also beneficial for actual teething because it can reach toward the back of baby’s gums and is therefore also great for teething toddlers breaking in their molars.
Teethers come with a variety of textured surfaces. They may have bumps, ridges, swirls, bristles, etc. Offering a variety of textures will help expose baby to a wider variety of sensations.
Soft enough for chewing
Silicone is the most popular material for teething toys and for good reason. It’s somewhat soft making it easy for baby to chew on without hurting their mouth. Look for a silicone teether that is firm enough to help increase your baby’s strength when they chew on it.
Easy for baby to hold
Some teething toys have handles or a part that is a circular shape, which can make it easier for baby to maintain their grasp on. While this isn’t completely necessary, it can be helpful, especially for a younger baby or for a baby who tends to let go of objects quickly.
My Favorite Teething Toys
With so many teether options, you may get overwhelmed when searching Amazon or walking down the baby aisle at Target. In my experience, these are some of the best teething toys for stimulating oral-sensory and motor development.
Other Baby Toys that Make Great Teethers
These options are easy to hold and due to their shape, encourage baby to stick their tongue through the holes which encourages tongue movements including protrusion (sticking the tongue out). They are also great for baby to learn to pass objects from one hand to the other and have a rattle so baby can learn to shake it to make noise. I always love toys that help baby to work on multiple skill areas!
There are many other great options out there. Every baby is different and may like different teething toys. Use this guide to help find the best teethers for your baby and explore the benefits of teethers beyond teething!
Check out our free resource Top 5 Baby Toys for Oral Motor Skills for a 1 page guide with clickable links.
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