A lisp is a speech impediment where a person has difficulty making "S", "Z", and similar sibilant sounds. There are a number of causes for the condition, but occasionally people may develop a lisp shortly after getting oral appliances such as braces. If this happens to you, here are a few tips for dealing with the problem.
Types of Lisps
There are six different types of lisps based on how and where a person places their tongue when attempting to make sibilant sounds such as "S" and "Z":
- Palatial lisp – The individual uses the middle, rather than the front, of the tongue to make these sounds.
- Strident lisp – The placement of the person's tongue causes them to make a whistling noise whenever they make sibilant sounds.
- Nasal lisp – Some or all the air stream required to make the right sound is passed through the nasal cavity resulting in a type of "N" sound.
- Lateral lisp – The air passes around the sides of the tongue resulting in wet or slushy sibilant sounds. The person may even sounds as though they are slurring their words.
- Dentalized lisp – This type of lisp is caused by pushing the tongue too far forward in the mouth so that air is not able to pass between the teeth and the tongue.
- Interdental (or Frontal) lisp – A person with this type of lisp attempts to pronounce the sibilant sound by pushing the tongue against or between teeth, resulting in a "TH" sound.
Depending on the type of oral appliance used, a person could develop any one of these types of lisps based on the way the braces impact the placement of the tongue. For instance, people who use dental trays may develop a dentalized lisp when they first start using the mouth pieces because the trays decrease the amount of space available between the teeth and tongue. Orthodontic headgear may interfere with the tongue's ability to move to the required position in the mouth, leading to the development of a lateral or palatial lisp.
When Will the Lisp Go Away?
Not everyone will develop lisps when using oral appliances. In cases when a person does, the speech impediment typically goes away after a short period of adjustment. For instance, one person using dental trays reported their lisp went away after a couple of days.
Lisping that continues for longer than expected may indicate other problems. The dental appliance may not be fitted correctly and, thus, impacting your speech more than it should. If the lisp develops after wearing the braces for a long period of time, the dental appliance may have inadvertently caused your teeth to become misaligned, which can also have an adverse effect on the way you speak. In either case, it's important to talk to your orthodontist about the issue so he or she can check the appliance and make any necessary adjustments.
If the problem is not caused by the hardware, you can overcome a lisp by retraining your mouth using a couple of speech therapy exercises:
- Working on the sounds in isolation. For instance, to correct a problem with "S" sounds, practice saying words that contain it such as "seasons", "soap", and "sun". Start with simple words and increase in complexity as you master saying the sound correctly.
- Practice putting your tongue in the right position. For people who are struggling with a lateral lisp, for example, you'll want to practice placing your tongue in a butterfly position by saying the letter "N" but stop just before your tongue completely touches the room of your mouth. Then practice blowing air between the space to imitate the "S" sound. Doing this every day will help strengthen your tongue and retrain your mouth to say sibilant letters correctly.
There are also a few oral appliances you can use to help you relearn how to position your tongue. To learn more about correcting a lisp due to a dental device or to fix a problem you may be experiencing with your braces, connect with your local orthodontist.