Oral Defensiveness




Taste the texture. The relation between subjective tactile sensitivity, mouthfeel and picky eating in young adults


“These results show that in adults too, tactile sensitivity plays a role in the acceptance of a larger variety of foods. This means that when aiming to change or improve dietary quality of adults, acceptance of food texture should be taken into account…”
Chantal Nederkoorn Katrijn Houben Remco C.Havermans


As a child who was born too early, you may take with you some long standing challenges into adulthood.  Children who had trouble with Oral Defensiveness/Oral Aversions may still find that these issues are present as adults.  It is not unusual for adults with these issues to still be struggling with this and also to not seek help, because these behaviours and challenges over time can make you feel different, self-conscious and may be long standing.  But eating is a necessary activity and good nutrition is important to be healthy.  Eating is also a social skill and enhances our quality of life. As time goes on, you may have put a lot of energy into hiding this problem.  Remember that you are not alone and there is help out there for adults with these types of challenges.

Having preferences is unique to everyone, no two people have the same food likes and dislikes.   Just think about the hundreds of flavours, smells and textures that accompany food and everyone’s perception of a particular food could be different as well.  While one person may enjoy the taste of corriander, for example, another might find it soapy.  Tomatoes might look ok to you, but when you cut it open, the release of gooey liquid might be too much.  It might turn some picky eaters off tomatoes.  People with oral aversion as adults might find themselves in more social situations where food is commonly part of the social setting and this may bring up old feelings of frustration and self-consciousness about this issue.  However as adults, they may now be more motivated to seek help and make changes to improve variety in their diet.  As parents of adult children we can be that supportive voice encouraging them that there is help and therapy available.


There are a range of health professionals who are able to help with oral defensiveness and oral aversions, such as Psychologists,  Occupational Therapists, Speech Pathologists and accredited  Practising Dietitians.   These health professionals are able to assist you in a variety of ways to help you to gradually increase the variety of food in your diet and the feelings associated with doing so.   They can help you:

  • Being more comfortable being exposed to different foods, touching and smelling different foods.
  • Try new foods by slowly introducing them in an effort to expand the palate.
  • Teach you new ways of handling situations like eating in public or explaining their food preferences to others.

While loved ones’ concern is understandable, selective eaters may not want to share their issues with everyone and unwanted advice and intrusive questions may feel like an attack on their sense of self. “It’s getting into their space, and it has nothing to do with you.” Some adults have said.

“My son had Oral Aversion as a child and he is very aware that he is still a picky eater as an adult but he is in charge of his diet now. This is interesting, I can recently see improvement because he wants to feel more comfortable in social situations. I see this challenging area for him making some progress even now as an adult.”

It’s understandable for adults who were born premature or sick at birth, to still show some signs of Oral Defensive/Oral Aversion.  This can be a challenging issue because it can still be a problem as an adult. Eating is a necessary behaviour and it’s something that comes naturally to most people.  Just remember that change can be slow at first but stay connected to positive people who understand this issue because it’s not your fault, this is something many adults are dealing with.  

Need support? NurtureConnect allows you to connect with our NurtureProgram support team, or call our 24 hour NurtureLine 1300 622 243 or join our Facebook community.


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Disclaimer: This publication by Miracle Babies Foundation is intended solely for general education and assistance and it is it is not medical advice or a healthcare recommendation. It should not be used for the purpose of medical diagnosis or treatment for any individual condition. This publication has been developed by our Parent Advisory Team (all who are parents of premature and sick babies) and has been reviewed and approved by a Clinical Advisory Team. This publication is not a substitute for professional medical advice. Miracle Babies Foundation recommends that professional medical advice and services be sought out from a qualified healthcare provider familiar with your personal circumstances.To the extent permitted by law, Miracle Babies Foundation excludes and disclaims any liability of any kind (directly or indirectly arising) to any reader of this publication who acts or does not act in reliance wholly or partly on the content of this general publication. If you would like to provide any feedback on the information please email [email protected].