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What causes a lisp?

Sep 4, 2023Oral health

What causes a lisp?

Currently, there is no established cause of lisps. Some suggest that the prolonged use of a pacifier beyond a certain age may be contributing factor to an increased likelihood of developing a lisp. However, it should be noted that pacifier usage does not always lead to a lisp in children. Moreover, no lisping occurs in children who use a pacifier.

Possible causes of lisps may include:

  • Tongue-tie also referred to as ankyloglossia, is a condition characterized by a restricted tongue movement caused by the tethering of the tongue to the bottom of the mouth.
  • Jaw alignment issues
  • Mislearning to say the sound correctly.

 

What is a Lisp?

A Functional Speech Disorder (FSD) is a speech disorder, characterized by incorrect placement of the tongue and teeth when producing certain sounds. FSDs occurs when an individual has difficulty learning how to correctly produce certain sounds or a group of sounds while speaking.

Functional speech disorders (FSDs) refer to a disorder of communication in which the cause is not known. These conditions can persist into adolescence and adulthood, but with appropriate treatment by a speech-language pathologist (SLP), they may be successfully addressed.

When producing the /s/ and /z/ sounds, the tongue tip should be placed just behind the front teeth on the roof of the mouth. However, in cases of lisping, the tongue often protrudes between the front teeth instead. This produces a ‘th’ sound instead of the intended /s/ or /z/.

 

Types of Lisps

There are four distinct types of lisps:

Frontal lisp: This lisp is caused by incorrect placement of the tongue when trying to pronounce words with S or Z in them, leading to a “th” sound.

Lateral lisp: When pronouncing the S and Z sounds, the air passes over the tongue more vigorously which can create an auditory impression of increased saliva production.

Palatal lisp: When producing S and Z sounds, one should touch their tongue to the roof of the mouth.

Dental lisp: This lisp appears to be a frontal lisp, characterized by the tongue pressing against the teeth instead of pushing through them.

 

Do I Have a Lisp?

If you are uncertain whether you have a lisp, there are various methods available to evaluate this. Struggling to pronounce the /s/ and /z/ sounds may be indicative of a lisp due to incorrect tongue positioning.

A useful technique for determining the presence of a lisp is to say the word “silly” and carefully monitor the pronunciation of the /s/ sound. A lisp is typically most evident when making this sound.

One way to determine if an individual has a lisp is to have them utter the word “shoe.” If the tongue is placed between the teeth when producing the /sh/ sound, it could be indicative of a lisp. Some individuals may pronounce words such as “zoo” as “thoo” or “soup” as “thoup.” Additionally, they may add an “S” sound at the end of a word when it does not traditionally end with this sound.

Some individuals who have a lisp may also struggle to produce the /sh/, /ch/, and /j/ sounds, although difficulties pronouncing these sounds are less common.

If you believe that you or your child has a lisp, there are many effective treatment options available. To begin the process, we recommend consulting with a licensed speech-language Pathologist for an assessment. These professionals specialize in articulation and phonological disorder treatments.

If the lisp is caused by incorrect tongue placement, then practicing and exercising may be sufficient to resolve the issue. Alternatively, if the source of the lisp is anatomical, it may be advisable to consult a dentist or orthodontist.

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