Why Is My Child Pocketing Food? 6 Tips To Encourage Healthy Eating & Dental Habits

By Dr. Sarah Yang

For many parents, the act of food pocketing is a commonality among children - but how can you prevent it?. Food pocketing is the act of storing food inside the mouth without swallowing it - some children even hold food in their mouth for hours. This behavior increases the risk of developing cavities. If your child continues to pocket food past the age of 5 years, this can be a cause for concern.

Your child has texture aversions or trouble sensing food

Most children tend to hold food in their mouth because they dislike the texture of the item - a piece of broccoli too grainy, a banana too squishy.. Some children store food because they are not even aware there is food left in their mouth. This condition is fairly common among children who have trouble with sensory processing. Signs might be coughing or gagging, food falling out while eating, avoiding hard to chew foods like meat and tough foods, and favoring spicy food or carbonated beverages. How can you help your child sense these new flavors and textures? Try cold water between bites to help increase awareness and encourage the feeling of a clean mouth and teeth. You can also alternate between soft and hard foods and try using a silicone nook brush, or a vibrating Z-Vibe to massage the soft tissues.

Your child has trouble swallowing or removing food

Children can have weak oral motor skills, which have everything to do with muscle strength and coordination. This includes how you move your tongue to help with swallowing and chewing and keeping your lips shut so that food doesn’t spill out. You can est to see if the tongue is weak by telling your child to sweep their tongue left and right, in and out. A chewing appliance like the Myo Munchee, can help develop the muscles involved in chewing and also increase the muscle tone of the tongue. Chew the Munchee for about 10 minutes daily to help improve oral function and swallowing and as a result, help orofacial development.

Your child experiences pain while swallowing

It could start off as a sore throat, a swollen or enlarged tonsil, or chronic reflux. The avoidance of swallowing can become a habit to the point that your child needs help to move past that mental block. It is possible they have enlarged tonsils that make it hard to swallow–if so, they should be evaluated by an ENT.

Your child simply doesn’t want to eat

Sometimes, a child doesn’t want to eat any more so they stuff food to block you from feeding them more. Try to encourage a variety of foods, both in shapes, texture, and color, to help encourage your little one to try something new.

How to make eating fun, paced, and focused

Try to wean off of any distractions like TV while eating. Use fun, small utensils or toothpicks to pick up food so they can focus on eating and swallowing one small bite at a time. Demonstrate and talk about the step by step process, from scooping the food to chewing and swallowing. Cutting food into tiny bits may help them chew and swallow better. You can also demonstrate lingual sweeping, which is moving your tongue in between the gums and the lips to retrieve food in a sweeping motion. Finally, try using a mirror for visual feedback so the child can see themselves, or make this into a game.

Still stuck?

As a parent, you can always help remove pocketed food. Use a toothbrush or silicone nook to help them remove the pocketed food from their mouth. If you are still struggling to resolve your child’s eating behaviors, seek out a feeding therapist. These specialists are usually occupational therapists or speech pathologists who can give even more strategies and solutions customized to your child. Be sure to bring a log of types of food and texture of food that are often pocketed.

If you have questions about how food pocketing or other eating behaviors can impact your child’s teeth, please reach out to Dr. Yang at EMAIL or give our office a call at PHONE. We’d be happy to provide advice and free consultations to help your child.

Let's achieve and maintain a lifetime of healthy smiles!

Book Online Now