What is an oral mechanism exam?

An oral mechanism exam is a medical evaluation designed to assess the physical condition and function of the mouth and related structures. An oral mechanism exam can be performed by a variety of professionals, including dentists, physicians, and speech therapists. The evaluation of the oral mechanism can be part of a complete head and neck examination, or it can be performed in isolation. These tests are commonly used to diagnose the causes of many different types of speech disorders.

The first part of the oral mechanism exam is usually a thorough evaluation of the facial structure and physical characteristics of the oral cavity. All relevant structures are included in the exam, such as the teeth, tongue, palate, jaw, throat, and tonsils. Some physical abnormalities that may be discovered, such as a cleft palate, can be quite obvious even to the untrained eye. However, a trained specialist will usually be able to detect much more subtle malformations as well. The size and symmetry of all organs will be checked, as sometimes even a small deviation in, for example, the shape of the bone, can cause a problem with vocalization.

In some cases, the structure of all relevant organs is normal, but function may be impaired. Therefore, the oral mechanism exam also includes an evaluation of the movement and functionality of the mouth and its related organs. Typically, the professional performing the exam will instruct the patient to make certain sounds, or say specific words, while making a detailed observation of various movements of the jaw and oral structures. Jaw function is evaluated, along with the ability of the facial muscles to perform normal facial control, movement of the tongue, soft palate, and the rest of the mouth.

A wide variety of functional problems can be detected during an oral mechanism exam. For example, paralysis of a certain group of oral muscles can result in an inability to raise the soft palate when speaking, causing the voice to sound nasal. Another example could be weakened muscles on one side of the tongue, which could cause difficulty speaking.

Oral mechanism examination is generally a non-invasive procedure. This is usually minimal discomfort, and these exams are done regularly in young children, as well as adults. These evaluations are important to discover or eliminate physical problems that may be at the root of undiagnosed speech disorders.

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