Ask An Expert: Why Brush Baby's Tongue?

In collaboration with Melanie Potock.

Speech language pathologists (like me!) who specialize in helping parents boost speech, language and feeding skills know the importance of stimulating baby’s tongue.  One of the first things I teach parents is to gradually help baby learn to enjoy the feel of a soft baby toothbrush on the tongue.  

Yes, it’s very important for oral hygiene, but it also helps baby gradually learn about new sensations in the mouth and increases baby’s awareness of what that little tongue can do!  When baby brushes the tongue, the tongue presses into the stimulation, almost searching for that input.  You’ll see infants do that when they are mouthing safe toys and teethers, and then, at about 5 months of age baby enters the all-important stage of “discriminative mouthing”. Now they have better control and use their tongue purposely around the inside of their mouth.  You can give baby your clean finger and feel this emerging skill!  You’ll be able to tell that they are intentionally seeking out the finger and moving it about to explore it with the center of the tongue, the sides of the tongue and the left and right gumlines. That exploration is one of the first steps to learning to control soft pieces of solid foods at 6 months of age.  

Babies who learn to brush their tongues get a head start on this stage of learning.  It also helps to shift the gag reflex just slightly back on the tongue.  Don’t worry, it won’t make the gag reflex go away, but it will help baby learn to manipulate food so that they gag just when they need to, rather than too frequently as they try a variety of safe, squishable foods.