How Oral Structure Can Impact Speech Production

By AASLFebruary 3, 2020

Structural Anomalies that Contribute to Speech Problems

Speech irregularities can be caused by structural anomalies in the mouth and teeth. When we evaluate children for speech sound delays or disorders, we assess their mouths and teeth for any observed deviations in structure or form, as these can directly impact the sounds they are able to make. The structural anomalies below are the most common ones that affect speech production and sounds.

  • Tongue Thrust:

Tongue thrusting is the habit of pushing the tongue against or between the front teeth when speaking or swallowing. This can have an impact on normal swallow pattern, speech, and dentition (the development of the teeth and their arrangement in the mouth). Most children outgrow a tongue thrust. If they do not, a trained speech language pathologist (SLP) can help re-train the muscles to a normal speech and swallowing pattern.

  • Open Bite/Malocclusions:

Open bite/malocclusion is an anomaly in the alignment of the teeth. This can be caused by prolonged pacifier usage and thumb sucking, which can alter dentition as teeth grow in and cause speech problems. The structural part of the problem can be solved by an orthodontist and the functional problems that coincide with this can be addressed by a speech therapist.

  • Cleft Lip/Palate:

A cleft lip/palate occurs when the roof of the mouth has an opening into the nose. This can cause feeding problems, speech problems, and other health related issues. Repairing a cleft lip/palate requires a surgical team. Often, after surgery, the child is referred to speech therapy. In the case of a sub mucous cleft (which is less common and sometimes goes undetected until a child presents with speech, feeding, or other problems at a later time), a referral to a physician would also be warranted for this type of anomaly to determine if repair would be needed .

  • Tongue Tie (aka Ankyloglossia):

A tongue tie is when a short, tight band of tissue tethers, or “ties”, the tongue’s tip to the floor of the mouth. It can affect how a child eats and speaks. Depending on how severe the problem is, this can require surgical intervention and speech therapy following it. Some cases can simply require speech therapy.

  • Open Mouth Resting Posture:

This posture is exactly what it sounds like: when the mouth rests in an open position. This can interfere with speech over time as the tongue typically “falls” out of the open mouth, pushing against the teeth and causing secondary changes as well. If your child has an open mouth posture and perfect speech, it’s still a good idea to see a physician because this mouth posture can cause other problems with facial and mouth growth later on. In terms of speech impact, a closed mouth resting posture with the tongue in the mouth is important for developing normal speech and reducing drooling.

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