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What Is a Lisp and What Causes It?

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If you or someone you know misarticulates certain phonetic sounds, it may be due to a lisp. The cause, effects and solutions for this speech disorder may differ, depending on the person. Here's why someone may have trouble making phonetic sounds correctly and what can be done about it.

What Are Lisps and What Causes Them?

A lisp is a common type of speech impediment. An article from Speech-Language Pathology Graduate Programs specifies several potential causes of lisping:

  • Learning to pronounce sounds incorrectly
  • Jaw alignment problems
  • Tongue tie, where the tongue is attached to the bottom of the mouth and movement is limited
  • Tongue thrust, where the tongue protrudes out between the front teeth

Some of these issues are apparent from birth, such as a tongue tie, while others, such as improper pronunciation, develop as a child learns to speak.

Types of Lisps

There are four professional categories of lisps, as the Speech-Language Pathology Graduate Programs outlines. The first is a frontal lisp, which is the most common and occurs when individuals push their tongues too far forward. Second is a lateral lisp, which occurs if air moves over the sides of the tongue when speaking, resulting in a slurred sound. People with palatal lisps, the third kind, touch their tongue to the roof of their mouth while saying certain sounds. Finally, the fourth kind, dental lisps, are easily confused with frontal lisps, but these occur when the individual pushes their tongue against the teeth — not through them.

The Connection Between Lisping and Misaligned Teeth

The American Dental Association describes malocclusion as the misalignment of teeth when biting down. This occurs as a result of the teeth being crooked or too far apart.

In some cases, dental malocclusion can be directly linked to speech disorders. A synthesis of research in Avid Science determined that people who have speech articulation issues, such as a lisp, have a high chance of malocclusion. However, malocclusion doesn't necessarily cause the speech disorder, and the severity of the disorder doesn't necessarily correlate to the severity of the malocclusion.

Some of the alignment issues associated with speech disorders include:

  • Increased overjet
  • Overbite
  • Openbite
  • Spacing between the teeth in the upper jaw

It is important for anyone who believes they have a speech disorder or a bite issue to get a professional diagnosis. The Speech-Language Pathology Graduate Programs notes that it's especially important to determine if the lisp is a result of tongue thrust, as this condition can have significant dental consequences.

Treatment for Speech Articulation Issues

Having a speech issue can be emotionally difficult. If you or someone you know has speech trouble, there are several ways to seek help. According to the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA), people with lisping issues can seek help from a dentist, orthodontist, doctor or speech-language pathologist.

A dentist and orthodontist can check the positioning of the teeth and the size and shape of the palate and bite. A doctor may look for other things, such as allergies and tonsil size, while a speech and language pathologist will likely focus on how the individual speaks, breathes and eats. Sometimes, treating a speech issue requires a combination of professional interventions.

If the speech disorder is related to the structures of your palate, teeth or tongue, there is a possibility to treat it. The Mayo Clinic notes that tongue tie can be treated through surgical procedures. Your team of professionals may recommend speech therapy, too, which helps you learn and practice the correct pronunciation of sounds, according to the ASHA.

If you or someone you know suffers from a speech disorder, don't worry! There are many resources available for support and therapy.

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This article is intended to promote understanding of and knowledge about general oral health topics. It is not intended to be a substitute for professional advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always seek the advice of your dentist or other qualified healthcare provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition or treatment.

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