Speech PathologySpeech and language pathology is concerned with issues surrounding human speech and language communication disorders.

Child development has many milestones including taking that first step, first eating of solid foods, and speech. The maturation of the speech process is one of the most important milestones in any child’s development. Speech development is a form of learned behavior that is influenced by many things like environment, parental involvement, and the child’s own mind and musculature. For most children speech development is an easy process but for some children they have difficulties and need extra attention and help. Studies have shown about 10% of children have some form of speech pathology that if not corrected will cause issues for them later in their development.

Speech is defined as the expression of or the ability to express thoughts and feelings by articulated sounds in a language. The actual mechanism of speech can be complex. The actual speech is coordinated by various parts of a child including their musculature, breathing, teeth, and mental/neurological capacities.

Actual speech begins with a baby crying and how the baby learns to communicate its needs and desires. This is why shortly after birth that a baby has different cries and a mother can distinguish a cry of pain from a cry of hunger.

At about the 6 month mark most babies begin to make sounds very similar to speech, attempting words but not quite there yet. In most children this will ramp up quickly over the next 6 months. When actual talking begins words are formed in isolation and not in complete sentences. Some kids aquire words and language very quickly and amass a larger vocabulary at an early age while others are slower to develop. There is a large spectrum of what is considered normal.

Speech Pathology Disorders

A speech disorder refers to a problem with the actual production of sounds. A language disorder refers to a difficulty understanding or putting words together to communicate properly.

Speech disorders include:

-Articulation disorders: difficulties producing sounds in syllables or saying words incorrectly to the point that listeners can’t understand what’s being said.

-Fluency disorders: Another name is stuttering. Stuttering is characterized as abnormal stoppages of speech, repetitions, or prolonging sounds and syllables.

-Resonance or voice disorders: problems with the pitch, volume, or quality of the voice that distract listeners from what’s being said. These types of disorders may also cause pain or discomfort for a child when speaking.

-Dysphagia/oral feeding disorders: these include difficulties with drooling, eating, and swallowing.

Language disorders can be either receptive or expressive:

-Receptive disorders: difficulties understanding or processing language.

-Expressive disorders: difficulty putting words together, limited vocabulary, or inability to use language in a socially appropriate way.

How Do Teeth, Tongue, and Oral Cavity Affect Speech?

Teeth and tongue and oral structures play an important role in the pronunciation of the consonants f, v, s, z, etc..,  In general children can compensate for minor oral issues and have no problems with speech.  Some dental issues are more extreme and may prevent or hinder pronunciation. Here are a few:

1. Open Bite . This is an oral malocclusion in which the front teeth do not close together. Many speech sounds require closed front teeth to enunciate.

2. Short Frenum. This is the attachment under the tongue, which can be so short that the tongue is actually attached at the tip to the tissue at the bottom of the mouth. The tongue needs to move and touch different areas to produce t,d,n,l,r sounds. This can usually be relieved with a small surgery with an ENT doctor.

3. Lack of Teeth. Whether due to early loss or lack of normal tooth development, loss of front teeth can make it extremely difficult to produce sounds well.

4. Cleft lip or Palate. Lack of full closure of lip or palate allows air to disrupt proper formation of speech sounds. Surgical closure helps to fix the problem, but speech therapy is generally still necessary.

5. Thumb Sucking After Effects. Prolonged thumb sucking can push front teeth forward, cause an open bite, and deform the palate. This combination can make proper speech development a challenge.

6. Tongue Thrust. This is when the tongue, during swallowing or speaking, pushes through the teeth. If not addressed with orthodontics, myofunctional therapy, or orthodontic appliances, the problem will cause movement of teeth and increased difficulty with speech. Tongue thrust needs to be diagnosed by your dentist.

Conclusion

Since speech is an important part of development, disorders may hinder personal, social and educational experience. Your dentist may be able to help you with diagnosing oral issues related to your child’s speech issues. Proper referrals to specialists can help get your child on the right path to proper speech development.