How Do Our Teeth Help Us Speak? With Your General & Restorative Dentist in Salem, OR
Updated: Apr 10
Do you ever think about how much your teeth help you speak? Read this sentence out loud and pay attention to how much your teeth come into play in forming these words and sounds. You’ll be hard pressed to find more than a few words that don’t need teeth at all to form the correct sounds!
How Teeth Help Us Speak
Speech is extremely complex, and our mouths (lips, tongue and teeth), our vocal cords, and our breath all work together in concert to form the correct sounds and pronunciations. Our teeth play a crucial role in speech, and help us speak in a couple different ways:
1) By helping to control airflow out of the mouth, and
2) Together with the tongue and lips, in the formation of a great many consonant sounds.
Our incisors (the front and central two teeth on both the upper and lower jaws) are the most important teeth in the mouth for speech in many languages, including English. Sounds like “f” “v” “z” “s” can only be made correctly with the aid of our front teeth. For example:
We form the “f” and “v” sounds by pressing the lower lip to the upper teeth.
The “t” sound is made by tapping the tip of the tongue against the back of our upper teeth and/or roof of the mouth.
The “th” sound is made by brushing the tip of the tongue against the bottom of our upper teeth.
Teeth trap the air around it and the tongue to make “z” and “s” sounds.
Sounds like “j,” “ch,” and “sh” are formed in a similar way as “z” and “s“ above, though the tongue is positioned differently. It might seem like these sounds don’t utilize the front teeth, but missing or misaligned front teeth would make pronouncing these sounds much more challenging.
Try saying the following sentence without your tongue or lips touching your teeth: “Thank you so very much for examining my teeth.” Pretty difficult, right?
Dental Issues That Can Hinder Speech (& How to Remedy Them)
Missing teeth, particularly front teeth, will result in a drastic change in your speech and pronunciation. Our molars and premolars aren’t really used in speech, and missing those teeth won’t affect pronunciation as much – but over time those missing teeth will result in oral health problems that will, such as shifting of teeth and loss of jawbone. What can you do if you’ve lost a tooth? We always recommend restoring or replacing the missing tooth as soon as possible, and depending on the case many options may be available to you, such as a crown, bridge, partial or full dentures, dental implants and more.
Crooked or gapped teeth can affect the way we speak and may result in a lisp or whistling noise while speaking. Speech impediments like these can make it difficult for you to be understood and to articulate yourself clearly. Orthodontics (such as braces or invisible aligners) will shift teeth into the correct position over time, and well aligned teeth have the additional benefit of improving oral health. For very minor cases, your dentist may be able to close gapped teeth with dental bonding or veneers.
Misaligned bite – the term “bite” refers to how your upper and lower teeth sit against each other when your jaw is resting. A misaligned bite can refer to an overbite, open bite, underbite, or crossbite. A bad bite can result in speech impediments such as: a lisp, slurring, whistling, or difficulty pronouncing certain sounds. Orthodontic treatments like braces, aligners and retainers can correct a misaligned bite over time.
Cleft lip and cleft palate affect airflow and ability to form certain sounds, and may also affect eating and digestion. Surgery can restore normal function with minimal scarring and normal appearance, and is usually recommended for babies before any difficulties with speech development can set in. If needed, speech therapy can help correct any speech issues.
Tongue ties and lip ties, aka too-thick or too-short lingual or labial frenulums. Lingual and labial frenulums are the bits of soft tissue that connect the tongue to the base of the mouth (lingual) or the lips to the gums (labial). Tongue ties and lip ties are congenital conditions that often affect speech. Fortunately, tongue and lip ties can usually be fixed easily with a frenectomy – a largely painless surgical procedure that most dentists can perform in a single, quick office visit.
Discolored or decayed teeth can indirectly cause speech issues due to self consciousness and/or discomfort while speaking. People who are self conscious about their teeth may try to hide them while speaking by limiting how much they move their lips or open their mouths, which affects speech volume, intonation and clarity. Cosmetic and restorative dentistry options like dental bonding and veneers can quickly correct the color, shape and size
of teeth, and restore your confidence in your smile and speech again.
Feel free to contact us if you have any questions or would like a consultation to address any speech difficulties you have. We can help you explore your options, such as replacing or restoring a tooth. We provide a wide range of dental restorations like dental bonding, veneers, crowns, bridges, dentures and implants, and will work with your needs to ensure you find a solution that works best for you!
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