The tongue is the most important muscle and articulator when it comes to eating, chewing, and swallowing as well as properly producing speech and language sounds. The tongue muscle needs to be quite strong so it can properly execute its functions. The tongue plays a large role in our eating, chewing, and swallowing systems, and it is required to push food around our mouths as we chew, as well as push the chewed food down our esophagus into our stomachs. If you pay attention when you swallow, you will feel the strength of your tongue and the movement it must make.
The tongue also plays a major role in speech sound production and must execute a completely different set of movements and placements than those required for eating and swallowing. There are many muscles and movements that must work together seamlessly in order to produce clear and correct speech. Poor muscle tone in the tongue or other disorders related to the tongue and mouth muscles can have significant effects on one’s ability to speak and communicate clearly and effectively. If you want to learn more about the importance of the tongue in speech production or how you can improve the strength and tone of these muscles, connect with one of our speech therapists by scheduling your free introductory call today!
How Does the Tongue Help with Speech?
The tongue is a vital part of the production of speech. There is a reason that a synonym for language is “tongue!’ For a speech sound to resonate effectively, the less tension in the base of the tongue the better. In a way, producing speech sounds requires the opposite movement of the tongue (up and forward) to that required to swallow. The quick movements of the tongue that are needed for effective speech require a significant amount of strength and control of the tongue. Regulating these movements and control of the tongue is best achieved through listening to the speech sounds or words and then executing them while paying close attention to the movement and the placement of the tongue. Sensitivity and awareness are key when working on a large range of capabilities and functions of the tongue. The tongue is made up of 8 different muscles, classified as intrinsic and extrinsic. The tongue must work properly in cooperation with the lips, teeth, and jaw to properly and clearly execute speech sounds.
In some cases, inadequate strength and placement of the tongue are due to an oral-motor disorder. An oral-motor disorder is defined as the inability to effectively use the mouth for eating, speaking, blowing, chewing, or making specific sounds. Oral motor disorders can be caused by improper programming of the muscles in the mouth, resulting in challenges related to chewing and swallowing, as well as producing clear speech. Low muscle tone can also cause challenges related to speech and language. If this is the case, you will likely also observe problems with eating and moving the food around their mouth.
There are many other medical conditions that can lead to problems related to tongue strength and oral motor skills such as:
Traumatic Brain Injury
Nervous System Conditions such as Parkinson’s
Facial Differences such as Cleft Palate or Orofacial Myofunctional Disorders
Whatever the cause of the challenges related to the tongue and mouth muscles is, a registered speech and language pathologist is the best resource for improving these functions. If you want to learn more about how a speech therapist can help, schedule your free introductory call today!
How Can I Strengthen My Mouth Muscles for Speech?
Oral motor skills are essential when it comes to developing speech and language skills in both adults and children. There are lots of fun and engaging activities you can do to help strengthen the muscles in the mouth and improve speech clarity.
Blowing Bubbles – This favorite pastime is great for improving strength within the cheeks and lips. The best part is that it’s fun, simple, and doesn’t even feel like therapy!
Drinking from Straws – Using straws to drink can improve strength and coordination in all parts of the mouth.
Lollipops or Popsicles – While it may seem unorthodox to introduce treats into a therapy session, lollipops and popsicles are great tools to help a child target certain areas of the treat or practice certain movements of the tongue.
Making Silly Faces – This is another fun and simple activity that can help children learn to control different parts of their face, and mimic what they are seeing someone else do. Practicing sticking your tongue out as far as you can, or as far to one side as possible can also be a very effective way to strengthen the tongue.
How Do You Test for Tongue Weakness?
The most common way to test for tongue weakness is with a tongue depressor. Typically the client is asked to press against the tongue depressor (which is held vertically slightly in front of their lips) with their tongue as hard as they can. They will then repeat this process with the tongue depressor positioned to the left and the right of the lips. The professional doing the evaluation can then determine the quality of the muscle tone within the tongue as well as overall strength.
How Can Speech Therapy Help with Weak Tongue and Mouth Muscles?
Speech therapy can be very beneficial for anyone who is struggling with speech and language skills related to poor muscle tone in their tongue and other mouth muscles. Speech and language pathologists are experts when it comes to identifying and understanding the mechanics of speech and where exactly to target their treatment. Whatever the cause is, they are experienced and highly qualified to help and support each client as they work towards their goals. If you want to learn more about how speech therapy can help to strengthen the muscles within the mouth and improve the clarity of your speech, schedule your free introductory call today!