Just as orthodontic intervention can assist with better breathing, improved sleep and the general appearance of the smile, an often-overlooked fact is that it can also benefit speech.
That’s because the formation of the jaw and the way the tongue interacts with the teeth has a direct impact on the type of sounds we create when speaking.
It’s fascinating to realise even something as simple as misaligned teeth or an incorrectly shaped jaw can affect the clarity and articulation of speech sounds.
Here’s a further insight into the scenarios when orthodontics can benefit speech, and how intervention can assist.
The speech process
Although speech is one of the earliest skills that we master in life, it’s also incredibly complex. The process requires a delicate interplay between the brain, nerves, breathing and muscle positioning. Even the simplest sounds require use of the vocal chords, tongue, nasal cavity, hard palate, soft palate, the jaw and the teeth.
Take a moment to consider the following sounds:
T and D – Both of these sounds rely on stopping the airflow between the tongue and the roof of the mouth just behind the front teeth. The sound is completed by releasing the tongue and the D sound also uses the vocal chords.
S and Z – These sounds are made by positioning the front teeth almost together, holding the tongue behind them and allowing air to flow over the tongue and across the teeth. In the case of Z, the vocal chords are also involved.
F and V – F and V require the top teeth to meet the bottom lip. Again, air is expelled, with vocal chords used to create the V sounds.
More complex interplay between the teeth and the lips is required for sounds like TH and CH, and the teeth also work to regulate airflow as we pronounce a host of strident sounds and consonants.
Common orthodontic issues that may affect speech include overly-spaced teeth, open bite and overjet, while underbite, crossbite and overly crowded teeth can also impact the way the tongue moves within the mouth.
They often result in the following speech impediments:
Lisp or whistling – A lisp causes the sounds of S and Z to sound more like TH, while whistling occurs when air escapes in the wrong place during speech. Common causes of whistling and lisp are overbite (where the teeth overlap too much), open bite (where teeth fail to meet) and overly-spaced teeth.
Articulation issues – Sounds like D, N, CH and T require the tongue to meet the teeth at the right angle. Teeth that aren’t in the correct position can make this more challenging, if not impossible. Issues that affect articulation can include underbite, cross bite, open bite or over-crowding.
Slurring – To make the correct sounds, the tongue needs room to move within the mouth, shifting position quickly as it combines sounds to create words. Should it not have that space, speech can sound slurred.
If you or your child has speech problems, an orthodontist is among the professionals you should consider contacting. We can assess your teeth and bite to see if orthodontic intervention may assist.
As speech is such a critical element of human interaction, we’d suggest you do so sooner rather than later. In children, early intervention can assist with speech problems long before the issues become entrenched into adulthood.
About Norwest Orthodontics
Norwest Orthodontics specialises in helping you achieve a great smile, no matter your age. We feature a range of orthodontic treatments that span from early intervention right through to remedial adult work.
We also have a suite of treatments available that include discrete, removeable Invisalign braces, and welcome the opportunity to work with you to achieve the smile you’ve always dreamed of.