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Can Orthodontic Treatment Improve Speech Disorders?

By November 30, 2017August 2nd, 2022Orthodontics
speech disorders treatment for a young girl

One of the things Dr. Hawley loves most about being a Papillion orthodontist is witnessing the transformation his patients undergo throughout orthodontic treatment. Of course, part of the transformation is achieving a fantastic new smile and getting a huge boost in confidence. Yet, the benefits of treatment go beyond the cosmetic aspects and, believe it or not, another big perk of bringing the teeth and jaws into alignment is improving a patient’s speech. Certain types of malocclusions, which are issues with the alignment or position of the teeth and jaws, can play a role in speech disorders. Since orthodontists are specialists in diagnosing, preventing and treating malocclusions, it makes sense that there are common speech problems orthodontics can help alleviate.

The Causes of Speech Problems

What causes speech impediments? Well, it depends on the type. Speech disorders can have numerous causes including problems with motor production of specific sounds, brain damage, birth defects like a cleft palate, hearing difficulties and genetics. While a lot of us take speaking clearly for granted, it’s actually a complex process that involves timing, control of nerves and muscles and our brain’s processing ability. The tongue, lips, vocal cords, lungs, hard and soft palate, nasal cavity, alveolar ridge, and, yes, our teeth and jaws, all have an important part in producing sound.

Some articulatory difficulties can be improved with orthodontic treatment. While there are those that are beyond the scope of our practice, a few are directly related to the teeth and jaws. The tongue has to be able to touch the teeth in a certain way to make some sounds or have space to move freely to produce others. Additionally, the teeth have the ability to control airflow to pronounce consonants and strident sounds (beige, jump, etc.) correctly. If the teeth aren’t in the right place, issues can occur. An overbite, open bite and significant spacing between the front teeth are common culprits of speech impediments. However, underbites and crossbites can also restrict the tongue and affect how clearly we speak. These types of malocclusions can be treated with braces and Invisalign or, in severe cases, surgical orthodontics.

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Improving Your Speech with Braces, Invisalign or Other Orthodontic Treatments

As we noted, if the root of a speech issue is due to a problem with the position of the teeth or structure of the jaw, orthodontic treatment can be beneficial. Some of the more common speech problems that orthodontic treatment can address are:

  • Lisp/Whistling: Someone with a lisp has trouble pronouncing /s/ and /z/ sounds and often replaces them with “th.” Whistling noises are sometimes lumped together with a lisp but whistling isn’t necessarily about where the tongue touches on the top teeth. Instead, it’s more about air escaping incorrectly. Patients with a lisp or whistle typically have an overbite, spacing between the front teeth or an open bite, which are malocclusions that can normally be fixed with braces or Invisalign.
  • Difficulty Articulating Consonants: Aside from the /s/ and /z/ sounds associated with a lisp, how we say other consonants, strings of consonants or sounds that require special emphasis can be impacted by different malocclusions. For example, alveolar sounds (/t/, /n/ and /d/) may be affected by an underbite, crossbite, crowding or open bite. Thanks to innovations in orthodontics, these issues can usually be remedied with braces or Invisalign, either alone or in combination with other appliances.
  • Slurring: Not having enough space in the mouth can make speech sound slurred. When caught early, we can often employ two phases of treatment to direct the growth of the jaw to make more room for permanent teeth to erupt before fine-tuning with braces or Invisalign in the teenage years. Even in adults, slurring can be reduced with treatment.

Additional Considerations

Many times when people think of braces and speech, they’re actually more concerned about the potential for orthodontic treatment to cause a speech impediment. The first few days of having braces or wearing Invisalign can make you talk a little funny and those with an existing speech disorder might feel as if it’s getting worse. In reality, it just takes a little time for you to get used to the sensation of having aligners or hardware in your mouth and once you’re acclimated, your speech will return to normal. When treatment is finished, you’ll likely be able to speak more clearly than ever.

Orthodontic treatment on its own may not be enough to eliminate speech problems entirely. This is particularly true for teenagers and adults who have gotten used to pronouncing words a certain way. Speech therapy may be indicated in conjunction with orthodontics to bring about the best results and enable patients to learn how to produce sounds correctly. Having your child evaluated by an orthodontist by seven-years-old can make a huge difference because we can intervene while their teeth and jaws are still developing for a more dramatic, stable outcome. At this point, speech problems probably aren’t causing the anxiety and self-consciousness that they often do as kids get older.

If you or your child is suffering from a speech disorder, schedule an appointment with an orthodontist to see if braces or Invisalign can help. If you’re interested in orthodontic treatment in the Greater Omaha area, book your free consultation with Hawley Orthodontics today. We’ll work with you to develop a personalized treatment plan to enable you to speak clearly and look and feel your best.