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How TMD can impact speech – what Speech Therapists need to know

11 December 2023

Around 10% of people in the UK experience problems with their jaw joint.[i] As such, it’s vital that all healthcare professionals have a good understanding of temporomandibular disorder (TMD) and the consequences it can have for patients.

Whilst TMD is often misunderstood, the jaw joints are responsible for all jaw and mouth movements, so it’s vital to recognise problems and begin therapy early.

Impact of TMD

TMD can cause patients pain in the head, neck, ears, and throat. It can also have an effect on speech, hearing, and vision in some cases.[ii]

The condition is also linked to other health issues. These included sleep apnoea, bruxism, and poor posture. Coping with these issues can be challenging for patients, so offering support where you can is important.

The effect on speech

Sometimes, TMD can cause the jaw to lock. This can be temporary, or long term. When this happens, patients may struggle to speak properly. Some may find this embarrassing, and may have trouble at work or socialising.

When TMD becomes more severe, patients may become used to moving their mouth differently, resulting in changes in their voice, slurred speech, or even dry mouth.[iii]

To help manage the effects on speech, there are a number of things to consider. The jaw joint is used almost constantly, when talking, chewing, or yawning, for example. Because of this, it can get very worn out after a day of use. Plus, if patients breathe through their mouth when they sleep, snore, or grind their teeth, their jaw is unlikely to get a break.

In addition to this, when patients begin to experience pain in the joint, they may start moving it abnormally to alleviate the pain – sometimes without noticing it! This could mean only chewing food on one side of the mouth, for example. While this may offer temporary relief, it can end up putting more strain on the joints.

Advice for recovery

Should a patient be struggling with TMD, offering advice could help prevent further issues, and aid in their recovery.

Advising patients to adopt a temporary soft food diet during flare ups can be helpful, alleviating excess strain on the jaw. If patients are experiencing lock jaw, making it challenging to speak and eat properly, it can be useful to recommend jaw stretches and exercises to expand their range of motion. Devices such as the OraStretch Press can be particularly useful here.

Rest is a crucial part of TMD prevention and recovery, alongside the use of specially designed stretches to keep the facial tissues healthy.




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