Q&A – Strengthening Mouth Muscles

Q:  My daughter’s speech therapist suggested we have my daughter sip thick liquids (i.e. yogurt, chocolate pudding, etc.) through a straw to work on strengthening mouth muscles.  I have not been able to find straws thick enough to work.  Do you have a suggestion?

A:  Straws are a great way to help individuals learn how to keep the lips closed, how to keep the tongue inside the mouth, how to improve cheek strength, etc. However, it may be difficult for your child to drink pudding or yogurt through a straw.  Perhaps your therapist may have meant for you to add pudding or yogurt to a drink in order to thicken it?

Personally, I have found that straws from McDonald’s have a large circumference, and they may just do the trick for you.  You may also be able to find straws in Target or Wal-Mart with a wider circumference to accommodate thicker substances.

Since it is a goal for your daughter to work on strengthening her mouth muscles, I would also like to suggest our Lip Bloks (pictured above).  Lip Bloks are essentially mouthpieces that can be inserted into the top of most standard drinking straws.  They come in three different sizes: ¾ inch, ½ inch, and ¼ inch.   You start with the longest (¾”) size, and then as soon as it becomes easy for your daughter to use that length, you progress to the next length level (½”).  When this becomes effortless, you progress to the final ¼” level.  The orange and purple Lip Bloks shown above are made out of a flexible material so that you can cut the stem to any custom length level.
The time frame between levels can vary for each individual, from one week or even longer.

One of the children on my caseload is non-verbal, has sensory issues, autism, and can not close his lips due the position of his teeth.  I used a Lip Blok with him for 8 weeks, and the change was incredible.  His tongue is now closer to being inside his mouth, he no longer makes a suckle noise when he drinks through a straw, and he can now maintain closure with his lips.  Lip Bloks can achieve all of this by working the mouth muscles naturally.  Your therapist, however, should also be able to provide additional direction.  You can also click on the image above for more information.

I hope this helps!


2 responses to “Q&A – Strengthening Mouth Muscles

  1. Mynde Siperstein

    Can you specifically tell me what vowels go with the different jaw heights of the new cat, mouse and dog tips?

    • Dear Mynde,

      I normally use the Animal Tips as a jaw grading exercise for individuals to gauge how far to open the mouth for food. They can certainly be used for vowel sounds as well, but I have not yet specifically determined which vowel sounds would go with the various jaw heights. It’s on my to do list. However, this is the process by which I would figure it out. Assuming you are an SLP, I would use the standard vowel chart and go through the various vowels according to how each is produced, such as front, central, back, etc. I would then say the sound myself and place each tip up to my mouth to see which height corresponds with which sound. For example, for the production of /i/, the jaw is high, so the thick bite block on the back of the Dog Tip would be used. The bite block on the back of the Cat Tip would be for a vowel requiring a smaller jaw height, perhaps /e/. And so forth, and so on. In addition to the bite blocks on the back of the tips (that come in a series of three heights), you can also use the cheeks, ears, face, etc. for additional jaw height options. Of course, vowels and jaw heights depend on the size/age of the individual as well as their accent and where he/she is from. On a related note, I have personally found the book Vowel Tracks by Pam Marshalla to be very helpful; it spells out vowel development and has a vowel chart.

      All the best,
      Debra C. Lowsky, MS, CCC-SLP