My Mouth, My Lips, My Tongue

“A boy is never going to want to kiss you,” a dental assistant chided me sometime around second grade. I hated the dentist’s office. The smell made me nauseous and everything they put in my mouth had a strange taste. The dentist and his assistants would always poke and prod inside my mouth or fight against my closed lips before asking my parents time and time again whether or not I had ever had a bad dental experience. I would refuse to let them do anything to hurt me. I would refuse to let them give me medication to help me lose control of myself. I wanted to stay in control always. I was a fighter. I always had been.

My adult teeth were growing in crooked. Not just regular-crooked. Like… psycho-killer-witch crooked. In the third grade, I was referred to a specialist, who handed me a cup of “apple juice” (I knew full well it was NOT), and then proceeded to pull out four or five of my baby molars. I’m not sure what he hoped to accomplish other than perhaps inviting my adult teeth to grow in sooner. All he did was take away the guidelines for those adult molars. They had no idea where to grow. He did the same thing two years later with the rest of my baby teeth. They wanted to fit me for braces, but I refused to sign the waiver that promised I wouldn’t bite anyone. I wasn’t about to promise not to involuntarily respond to stimuli.

My over-bitten crooked teeth caused me to develop a lisp, which is something I never knew I had until last year when two different people pointed it out at a voiceover expo. It is thought that only a small percentage of those with Selective Mutism also have a speech impediment such as a lisp or a stutter. Actor, James Earl Jones, was one of those rare people.

“Did you know I have a lisp?” I asked my brother, my mother, and my sister a couple weeks prior to my 24th birthday.

“You have a lisp?” My ear-trained musician of a brother responded, shocked. My mother and my sister nodded, “Yeah. You didn’t know?” Not even my best friend knew. In fact, my brother and I sat in our living room as I said a long string of random words, trying to figure out just what those people meant when they said I had a lisp. We finally figured out it was with the “s” sounds at the end of relevant words. Then we proceeded to joke around as I continued to over-exaggerate my s’s.

It’s interesting that I was the only one of my siblings who was not referred to a speech therapist in elementary school. My brother and my sister struggled to pronounce certain words correctly and spent some time with a speech-language pathologist (SLP) during the regular school hours. I even had a friend in the third grade who saw an SLP due to an obvious lisp. She always brought back candy from her sessions. However, the school was more concerned with my hearing than they were my speech (as mentioned in my post, False Beginnings). I wonder if this is because my speaking was a rarity. The school SLPs seem to mostly handle speech impediments. SM isn’t an impediment, and since I didn’t speak often, my minor lisp wasn’t noticed.

I chose to correct my teeth at the beginning of this year (2020) in hopes of correcting this lisp. It is a dream of mine to pursue voiceover work—a dream I’ve had to put on hold due to a palate expander taking away my ability to pronounce my ‘ee’ sounds. It’s been a real challenge to have to work with both the metal and my mouth and the many orthodontic assistants. I had originally planned this year to be a year full of moments when I could use my voice to its full potential, but have been greeted instead with many disappointments. I’m not even halfway through treatment yet, so it will be a while before I have full range use of my mouth and tongue again. For now, I will have to be patient.

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