The Relationship Between Speech and Oral Health

Oral health influences children's speech development. Discover the oral conditions that interfere with this type of communication.
The Relationship Between Speech and Oral Health
Vanesa Evangelina Buffa

Written and verified by the dentist Vanesa Evangelina Buffa.

Last update: 29 May, 2023

Did you know that there is a close relationship between speech and oral health? In this article, we’ll tell you how the condition of the mouth influences the way they communicate.

Babbling and a baby’s first words are very significant moments for the whole family. It’s common, and even funny, that, when little ones start to speak, they make some mistakes in their pronunciation. As time goes by, oral expression improves and pronunciation difficulties tend to disappear. However, conditions in the mouth can be the origin of certain difficulties in expressing oneself.

Oral health and speech

In order to be able to speak, a coordinated work of our lips, cheeks, tongue, teeth, and jaws is required. From the combination of movements and positions of these structures come clear, well-articulated sounds, which are necessary to say words. Children begin to develop speech around their first birthday, about the same time they get their first teeth.

As they grow older, children learn where different sounds are made in their mouths. Therefore, they become familiar with vocalization and movement, practice and exercise phonemes, and, little by little, improve the articulation of words. However, when some of the components involved in the production of sounds are affected by a health problem, speech can be impacted.

Missing teeth, broken teeth, and the inability to move the tongue freely are factors that can compromise the articulation of words. Proper oral health allows the child to learn to speak without hindrance or interference. For this reason, it’s essential that parents pay attention to the care of their children’s mouths and take their little ones to dental checkups from their first year of life.

Oral health problems that affect speech

During childhood, there are many situations that can compromise and affect the oral structures involved in speech. Here are some of the oral problems that can compromise speech.

A young child during speech therapy.
When there are speech problems, it’s important to see a speech therapist. The professional will help the child to re-educate the tongue and improve the pronunciation of phonemes.

Ankyloglossia or tongue tie

Tongue tie, or ankyloglossia, is a congenital anomaly characterized by the presence of a short lingual frenulum. The smaller size of this membrane restricts tongue movements, which causes difficulties in sucking, feeding, swallowing, and speech in children. With regard to language, it’s especially difficult for children to pronounce the sounds “d”, “n”, “l”, “r” and “t”.

To resolve this condition, dentists perform a simple surgery called a frenectomy. With this procedure, the lingual frenulum is cut and removed so that the tongue can move normally and perform its functions. In general, surgical treatment is complemented by speech therapy sessions.


Poorly positioned and crooked teeth or jaws that fail to relate properly cause bite problems in children. These are the most frequent situations:

  • Crowding: The jaws are very narrow and the teeth, not having enough space, overlap each other.
  • Diastemas: The teeth are too far apart.
  • Open bite: When closing the mouth, the upper and lower teeth don’t make contact.
  • Crossbite: The pieces of the lower jaw are placed outside the lower jaw, the opposite of how it normally occurs.
  • Overbite: The upper jaw protrudes forward or excessively covers the lower jaw.

Malocclusions can have a hereditary origin, but they can also be caused by some harmful habits during childhood. For example, thumb sucking, prolonged bottle or pacifier use, or mouth breathing. These interferences in occlusion affect many of the functions of the mouth, such as chewing, eating, aesthetics, and speech.

Bite problems can result in lisping and inability to produce strident sounds, which are those produced by rapid airflow against the teeth, such as “f”, “v” “z” and “ch”; bilabial sounds, such as “p”, “m” “b”; lingua-veolar sounds, such as “s”, “l” and “r”; and lingua-dental sounds, such as “t” and “d”.

Orofacial myofunctional disorders

Orofacial myofunctional disorders (OMD) affect the muscles of the face and mouth, causing atypical muscle movement patterns. In addition, there’s often a disconnect between the lips, tongue, cheeks, and teeth.

Like malocclusions, OMDs can be caused by certain habits. For example, thumb sucking, nail, cheek, or lip biting, pushing the tongue against the teeth, using bottles or pacifiers; and clenching or grinding the teeth. They can also be caused by genetic factors or health problems such as upper airway obstructions or enlarged tonsils.

If left untreated, these disorders interfere with feeding, breathing, and speech. In addition, they can affect the growth and development of the structures of the face and mouth, alter the alignment of the bite, the movement of the jaw joints, and the appearance of the child. It’s common for these little ones to have problems with the production of certain sounds, such as “j”, “s”, “z”, “sh”, “zh” and “ch”.

A little girl showing a tooth that's just fallen out.
Premature tooth loss can affect a child’s speech, as they’ll get used to pronouncing without these teeth. In such cases, seeking the help of a therapist to teach the child how to correct incorrect diction will be necessary.

Premature loss of teeth

The extraction or early loss of one or more teeth in children’s mouths can also affect speech. The absence of these supports, which are necessary for the emission of certain sounds, makes it difficult for young children to pronounce. If extractions are unavoidable, it’s essential to perform rehabilitations that are able to restore lost functions to the mouth.


Lack of oral health can lead children to feel ashamed of their mouth and want to hide it. Awareness of bad breath, missing teeth, and crooked, decayed, stained, or broken teeth can produce these feelings in children. Therefore, by not opening their mouth wide enough, speech is compromised. As a result, children can’t pronounce words correctly, and their communication sounds like mumbling.

What to do if your child has speech problems

If you notice that your child is having difficulty speaking, it’s best to consult your pediatric dentist. If there’s a speech problem, in order to solve it and prevent it from continuing, it’s crucial to determine the cause. Treating the origin of the disorder is the beginning of the solution. In addition, the help of speech therapists is often necessary, as they’ll teach the little one the proper mouth movements and positions to produce the phonemes.

Oral health care to prevent speech problems

Taking care of your children’s oral health from an early age will bring them many benefits. Daily brushing with fluoride, a healthy diet, and biannual checkups with your pediatric dentist can prevent many complications. Having a healthy mouth will allow your little one to eat, smile, and speak without difficulties.

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