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What Is a Lisp and What Causes It?

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Medically Reviewed By Colgate Global Scientific Communications

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.

What Are the 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. The second is a lateral lisp, which happens 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

Malocclusion is the misalignment of teeth when biting down which occurs because the teeth are crooked or not spaced correctly.

In some cases, dental malocclusion can be directly linked to speech disorders. Research conducted in a 2021 study published in the Journal of Applied Oral Science determined that people with 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
  • Open bite
  • Spacing between the teeth in the upper jaw

It is crucial for anyone who believes they have a speech disorder or a bite issue to get a professional diagnosis. It's especially important to determine if the lisp results from tongue thrust, as this condition can have significant dental consequences. Parents who notice speech difficulties in their children should seek evaluation.

How to Treat Speech Articulation Issues

Having a speech issue can be emotionally challenging. If you or someone you know has speech trouble, there are several ways to seek help. People with lisping issues can seek help from a dentist, orthodontist, doctor, or speech-language pathologist.

A dentist can check the positioning of the teeth and the size and shape of the palate and bite. A physician 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 you or someone you know suffers from a speech disorder, don't worry! There are many resources available for support and speech lisp therapy.

Oral Care Center articles are reviewed by an oral health medical professional. This information is for educational purposes only. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always seek the advice of your dentist, physician or other qualified healthcare provider. 

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