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Can Teeth Affect Speech Development?

added on: August 19, 2019
teacher holding up letter A

The mouth is a complex part of the body with a lot of individual pieces that can influence each other. One common question we get at our children’s dental office in Smyrna is if tooth positioning can affect a child’s speech development. The short answer is yes, but it’s a little bit more complicated than that. 

Parts of Speech

We’re not talking about nouns or adjectives, but more about the parts of our anatomy that allow us to speak. When speaking, the tongue, lips, cheeks, and teeth all have a part to play. Ideally, they work in harmony and produce a clear, well-enunciated sound. But sometimes, there’s a disconnect that can negatively impact speech. 

Orofacial Myofunctional Disorders 

This disconnect is often referred to as an Orofacial Myofunctional Disorder (OMD). OMDs occur when the tongue falls into an atypical position, usually too far forward or between the top and bottom teeth, during swallowing, speech, or rest. Dentists or orthodontists typically identify OMDs when the tongue’s position begins to influence tooth positioning and tooth eruption in smaller children. 

How OMDs Affect Speech

The good news is OMDs don’t always impact speech development, but they can. Since OMDs cause the tongue to wedge up against teeth or slide between the upper and lower teeth, certain sounds become increasingly difficult to make. Most commonly, children and adults with OMDs have trouble enunciating sounds like s, z, sh, zh, ch, and j. Instead of crisp, solid sounds, they produce more a “th” noise. 

What Causes OMDs?

There are several known causes of OMDs, including, but not limited to: 

  • Thumb sucking 
  • Enlarged tonsils
  • Genetics
  • Nail/Lip biting
  • Tooth clenching or grinding

If you’re concerned that your child may have a mouth condition that’s influencing speech development, contact our Smyrna children’s dental office to schedule an appointment. We’ll be happy to see your child, perform a gentle, thorough exam, and determine the best treatment for him. 

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