How Speech Correlates with Oral Health Development
A Guest Blog by Theraplay
Many parents don’t realize how closely teeth correlate with children’s speech development. Teeth have the ability to impact how children articulate words, produce sounds, and can have a lasting effect on a child’s ability to talk. Without teeth, a child would struggle with speech and feeding. Ironically, voice can be impacted as well and even language.
To speak on this topic, we’re excited to feature a guest blog post from our community partner, Theraplay. Theraplay is an organization that provides occupational, physical, speech and feeding therapy for children from birth to 21.
Articulation and Language Production
Teeth can dramatically impact articulation, which is the ability for us to produce sounds appropriately. Articulation is what many commonly think of when it comes to Speech Therapists and their work. Some examples of articulation therapy are kids in school working on their ‘R’ and ‘S’ productions. Language production starts around the time of a child’s first birthday which is when they should have their first dental appointment scheduled.
At the age of one, children start to put sounds together and make requests through expressive language. During this developmental stage, children will start to learn where they’re anchoring their sounds in their mouth. As they get more familiar with vocalizing and mouth movement, their sound production improves.
How Teeth Development Can Impact Sound Distortion
At Theraplay, your child’s speech therapist will check on the development of their teeth to ensure that they’re healthy! Good oral hygiene improves a child’s chances of avoiding sound distortion. Some children have healthy teeth and can still struggle with the production of certain sounds. If that’s the case, speech therapists sometimes substitute the sound they’re having difficulty pronouncing with other sounds that will help them produce a sound successfully. Some sounds are impacted by teeth development more than others, which is why children often struggle with the ‘F’ sound and ‘S’ sound.
- ‘F’ sound: To produce the ‘F’ sound, we put those top teeth on our bottom lip to make that ‘F’ production. If we don’t have those teeth, we’re already setting our children up for some challenges.
- ‘S’ sound: ‘S’ is another sound that is dramatically impacted by teeth development. If those teeth aren’t there in the front, our tongue can start to come out and we start to develop what’s called, a frontal lisp. And as we say the word Sally, that tongue is coming out the front, and then what we have to do is reteach the child, the motor plan so that they can successfully produce those sounds.
Assessing the Uvula at Your Child’s Dental Exam
The uvula, better known as the ‘hanging ball thing’ in the back of your throat, can also play a factor in sound articulation. At your child’s dental visit, your pediatric dentist may assess the uvula during their exam. This may help provide information for your child’s speech therapist if the uvula is impacting the production of sounds. One of the primary functions of the uvula is to close off the nasal passage. This allows air to move and produce the sounds out of our mouth.
Believe it or not, we have sounds that come out of our mouth as well as our nose! If the uvula is not functioning properly, sounds will be distorted, which could make a child hard to understand and can cause long term frustrations. If their peers can’t understand what they’re saying they can be frustrated over time. It is so important that we give our children the ability to have the structures in place to successfully produce the sounds.
The Tongue and Molars Role In Feeding
Did you know that at Theraplay, our speech therapists can work on feeding? One of the common questions we get is, “My child doesn’t have the teeth, can they eat the table food?” Yes, they can! Your speech therapist can assess how the food moves around your child’s mouth. Your child’s pediatric dentist may also help in assessing the structure of your child’s mouth to ensure food can move around the mouth successfully.
The tongue moves food back and forth in our mouth until it gets on the molars which chew and break down the food. Before children have their full set of baby teeth, molars play a key role at their young age to move and break down the food. After we chew up the food, we need our tongue to bring the “ball” of food (or bolus) back to the center of mouth, we get a cohesive bolus with the food and then we swallow it down.
Our occupational therapists at Theraplay also see children who have feeding challenges. They may see children who are picky eaters and/or have sensory aversions to temperature, texture, color and even brands of foods. If children start brushing their gums and teeth at a young age, besides keeping the gums and teeth healthy, it helps them desensitize and have that feeling of something in their mouth and then that will translate into the food as well. If a child doesn’t put anything in their mouth besides the bottle, they could be more resistant to accepting other things in their mouth including food.
If your child is facing issues like tongue ties, your child’s dentist will partner with your speech therapist. Your pediatric dentist at Children’s Dental Health can help your speech therapist assess the range of motion of the tongue and the structure of the tongue. Tongue ties can impact a child’s ability to feed successfully, especially for babies who are being breastfed. Children with tongue ties may have a harder time latching onto the breast if their tongue movement is restrictive which is something that your speech therapist at Theraplay can help with!
Sometimes, dentists recommend a tongue clip to help a child successfully feed. As children get older, sometimes they can’t move that tongue for the sound if their tongue has a limited range of motion because of a tongue tie. If that is the case, your speech therapist at Theraplay may need to consult with our dentists to see what the impact functionally is concerning the movement of the tongue.
How Water Impacts Children’s Voices and Oral Health
When it comes to children’s ability to speak, their water intake can play a huge factor. Water is important for our voice and helps use our voice successfully. As speech therapists, we hear a lot of kids that come in with a “froggy” voice. And sometimes that is truly because they are only drinking sugary drinks or the sodas with caffeine. Not only is this lack of water not healthy for their voice, but it’s also detrimental to their oral health. Sugary drinks and can lead to cavities, break down enamel, and effect their overall health. If you notice your child’s voice sounds “froggy,” “raspy,” or “hoarse” all the time, consult with a speech therapist and try to increase the water intake in your child.
Theraplay has 14 centers in Eastern PA, DE and NJ. Theraplay’s Director of Clinical Services, Courtney Klinger is also a speech and language pathologist and treats many children with challenges ranging from articulation, expressive and receptive language delays, feeding challenges and a variety of oral motor issues.
Children’s Dental Health and Theraplay work together to help support our mutual patients and children of our communities. The pediatric dental residents from Temple University Hospital also spend time in Theraplay centers to learn about their patients and therapies.
If you are concerned about your child’s oral health, speech or feeding, please reach out to us to schedule an evaluation at one of our centers. All center locations are listed on Theraplay’s website: www.theraplayinc.com
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