Children Who Hold Food or Saliva in Their Mouth

Does your child over stuff and pile food in their mouth and get the chipmunk cheeks? Children may begin a process of holding, spitting out or refusing food altogether. Or does your child collect saliva in their mouth and hold it until it’s too much to swallow and they have to spit it out? These behaviors are known as “pocketing”.

Pocketing usually begins when children are young. The child may experience something painful, such as reflux or a sore in their mouth, and they find it difficult to eat.

Children who pocket food should be checked out by a dentist to ensure there is nothing going on inside the mouth. If not, then an occupational and speech therapist, even if they have had no other type of therapies or been diagnosed with any medical conditions, would be the next step. A specialist can make sure there are no other problems, such as difficulty moving food around in their mouth with their tongue or if the tongue is weak. These children can usually be cured with basic therapy exercises to overcome these obstacles.

Pocketing could be a result of a sensory issue and more extensive therapy may be needed. Children with sensory difficulties, autistic children for example, may need a lot of food for them to even feel it in their mouth. These children tend to like crunchy or spicy foods because they may have trouble tasting or feeling other foods because of sensory issues.

Lots of toddlers will hold their food and that tends to be developmentally appropriate. If a child gets closer to age 5 and is still pocketing food, then parents may have cause for concern.

As children get older, they become more skilled at pocketing food. The kids may keep their food in their cheeks until they discard it, or the parents can’t get their children to swallow the food. This becomes a meal-time battle for some parents.

Some remedies for feeding disorders would be –

·       A pediatrician would help guide the child’s care.

·       A dietitian may help the child find foods they can swallow.

·       Speech and occupational therapists would provide therapy to teach swallowing and resolve sensory issues.

·       A child psychologist could help with any emotional or behavioral issues, such as anxiety or parent-child power struggles.

You also have to make sure your child doesn’t have a swallowing problem. For instance if a child has choked before or has trouble swallowing, they may be afraid to swallow.

If your child is pocketing spit or food, or their eating habits have changed, call us at 918.455.7700.  Drs. James and Samuel Owens can perform a thorough oral exam to determine if it’s related to something going on in your child’s mouth.