“Gustatory” is not a word you hear every day. But the gustatory system is something you use day in and day out without even realizing it! If you’re drinking, eating, savoring, or experiencing flavors, you’re putting this complex system to good use.
Like any other system, your tasting mechanisms are susceptible to dysfunction. But with the proper support, people with gustatory issues can find relief and improve their everyday lives.
What is the Gustatory System?
In a nutshell, the gustatory system is how you taste things. It’s part of your “chemical sensing system,” also called your “chemosensors.” While we reap the benefits of its functions all day long, the process of tasting is not something we give much thought to unless something goes wrong.
That’s because our gustatory system is so effective and efficient that we mostly take it for granted. When functioning correctly, we taste, identify sweet, salty, and sour sensations, and appreciate every moment of the process.
Like any part of the human body, the gustatory system can run into problems. But Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD) can sometimes make it seem like a person has gustatory issues when really their experience is being affected by SPD.
For example, issues with the tactile system might make someone extremely particular about food texture. On the other hand, sensory-seeking individuals might seek out crunchy or crispy items that offer stimulation.
It can be challenging to know whether someone has gustatory dysfunction–especially if they have SPD. Below, we’ll break down some signs and symptoms that your child might be experiencing hypersensitivity (oral defensiveness) or hyposensitivity (under-registers) to oral input.
Hypersensitivity to Oral Input
Hypersensitivity to oral input can also be thought of as over-responsiveness.
Signs and symptoms include:
- Picky eating and extreme food preferences
- Highly prefers bland foods and avoids sweet, spicy, salty, sour, etc.
- Has a strong negative reaction to mouthwash and or toothpaste
- Avoids hot or cold foods
- Sensitivity to food textures, including “gagging” with certain textures
- Might have a fear of choking or feel like they are choking
- Refuses to eat anything but soft foods
Hyposensitivity to Oral Input
- Loves electric toothbrushes and dental work
- Goes overboard with seasoning or sauces
- Chews on shirt collar, hair, and other objects
- Always puts objects in their mouth (well beyond toddler years)
- Seeks out intense sour, sweet, or salty flavors
- Indicates that all foods taste the same
How to Help with Oral Issues
- Get your child tested
- Consider hiring a trained Feeding Therapist
- Make a custom meal plan based on your child’s preferences
- Communicate your child’s needs to teachers and other adults
- Experiment with creative ways to help your child get the nutrients they need from foods that aren’t too bothersome for them
- Make trying various foods into a fun game so your child can learn that new things aren’t so bad
- Sensory Bins are another fun way for kids to associate food with curiosity and enjoyment
Conclusion: Sensory Processing and the Gustatory System