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Constant chewing since infancy

My almost six-year-old daughter has been chewing almost anything since infancy (we adopted her when she was 7 months).  She has always bitten her finger and toe nails (we've never clipped them), and she also chews her hair, clothes, jewelry, toys, stuffed animals, found objects, broken glass, etc.  She does not tend to swallow what she chews.

We do not scold her when she chews, but we do ask her to chew something safe if she picks up something unsafe (e.g. chew a toothbrush instead of jewelry).  I cannot correlate her chewing with stress; she chews at bedtime, while reading, in front of the TV, in the car, at kindergarten, etc.

Her speech was delayed and her pronunciation is still behind her peers (her language and vocabulary are at or ahead of age level).  Our speech therapist told us that chewing is common amongst kids with delayed speech - they seem to be seeking oral stimulation, perhaps to better develop their use of their mouth and tongue.

That said, I'm still concerned.  Should we be looking for a potential vitamin or mineral deficiency, or is it more likely this is just a confirmed habit.  We have read that we should stop her nail biting for health reasons, so we are trying to figure out what steps to take next.  Should we address the nail biting only, encouraging her to chew other things instead, or perhaps offer chewing gum on an ongoing basis?
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Avatar universal
My son chews on everything also, only difference is he also swallows sometimes. It is called Pica. He has PDD-NOS and sensory processing disorder as well as having delayed speech. His occupational therapist says this is a sensory issue and he is seeking deep pressure. We have a chewy tube that we give him when he starts chewing on something he shouldn't. Basically the trick is to replace the behavior with something that is acceptable.
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1149884 tn?1330520374
Ask about PICA
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Avatar universal
Thanks for the suggestion of Pica.  I'm not sure it fits, in that my daughter doesn't eat most of what she chews, but I will discuss it with my pediatrician.  I will ask for all the checks suggested with Pica (lead levels, mineral levels, anemia).

We had a chewy tube when she was younger, but don't anymore.  I'll look into finding one and trying it again.  It wasn't her favorite, but she would use it with prompting.

I plan to discuss with my pediatrician at her upcoming physical.  I posted hear to be prepared with questions.  Thanks for your help.
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973741 tn?1342342773
Pica usually involves swallowing--------  look into it but I think it sounds more like anxiety to be honest.  

Pica has a little to do with vitamin definciency but is actually under the DSM 4 guidelines as a psychiatric disorder.

My son is a chewer and he has sensory integration disorder.  He also had articulation issues.  It is a way of self soothing and calming down.  Some kids will do it when nervous or bored.  

The goal with my son was to provide alternative items such as what you describe----- the chewing tube. They make p's and t's and some are textured and some are smooth.  They make bands that go around the wrist or neck------- you could buy or make your own out of rubber tubing or beads.  They make things that go on the top of a pencil and some even vibrate.  In our school, they give kids coffee stirrers to chomp down on.

Does she have any other signs of anxiety?
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Avatar universal
Could it be anxiety?  Hmm, it's possible, but I'm leaning against it for the following reasons:

- Ongoing since infancy (granted, I do not know whether the nail biting started when we adopted her or was already a habit)
- Does not seem to increase during anxious times (e.g. ending preschool, starting kindergarten, etc.) or decrease during relaxed times, although I might start keeping a log to be sure.

It's more like she never outgrew her normal infant chewing habit.

I'll talk to my pediatrician.  I've found a local source for chewing tubes, so if her doctor agrees, we'll get her some.  Other than oral stimulation, she doesn't show signs of sensory integration disorder.
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973741 tn?1342342773
Well, it could be anxiety that is secondary to something like sensory issues.  I know you say she has no symptoms of this but this is just an example of how anxiety can be secondary to something else.  Some kids have minimal ability to self soothe and chewing is a known way that little ones try to do this.  My son has sensory integration disorder and has never been diagnosed with anxiety.  But . ..  his sensory issues make him anxious no doubt about it.  It is secondary as we treat the sensory issues (through occupational therapy------- meds do not work) and the anxiety gets much better.  

For whatever reason, it seems your daughter tries to calm herself orally.  So I'd give her an outlet such as the chewing tubes.  

Pica is typically treated by a psychiatrist and is related to anxiety as well.  In adults this is the case most typically.  So see what your pediatrician says and go from there.

Chewing on a rubber T is harmless and may help her feel comfortable.  But I'm sure you'd like to get to the bottom of why she's doing it.  Our kids can be like a mystery sometimes trying to uncover clues and solve what is going on.  good luck
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