A healthy mouth protects your voice

Oral health plays a key role not only in general wellbeing, but also in maintaining the voice quality of voice professionals and singers. Nina Garlo, communications manager at Koite Health, speaks with phonetician Minttu Ripatti, about how a healthy mouth enables an effortless smile and promotes smooth singing and performing.

Minttu Ripatti
Minttu Ripatti

As a phonetician, Minttu Ripatti’s work focuses on pronunciation and sound production, and its acoustic and physiological properties. Through her work, she has seen the impact of the voice on performance confidence and vocal range, among other things. As a pioneer in her field, she established a specialty in clinical phonetics in Finland at the HUS Phoniatrics Outpatient Clinic in 2016-2017. During her career, she has also trained professional speakers, especially in the field of voice ergonomics and voice use.

“The human voice is a wonderful instrument that conveys emotion! Both voice and oral health are important to avoid voice problems and to ensure that not only the spoken message but also the important facial expressions and gestures can support the message the voice is conveying,” said Minttu.

Minttu points out that oral health can also have an impact on sound production. For example, several studies have investigated the effects of dry mouth on sound quality, especially the consequences of hyposalivation and xerostomia.1,2

Good oral hygiene is the foundation for a lasting smile

Hyposalivation is a condition in which salivation is reduced from normal levels. This can occur as a result of dry mouth caused by medication use or salivary gland dysfunction. The mouth normally becomes dry in situations such as stress, medication or dehydration, but hyposalivation is a condition where the dryness is persistent or significant, which can cause discomfort and affect oral health.2

According to Minttu, dry mouth can affect voice function in a number of ways, including reducing vocal fold flexibility and increasing laryngeal irritation, which can lead to voice roughness and hoarseness. This highlights the importance of dry mouth care in maintaining sound quality and supporting voice health.

Another area of research, Minttu noted, focuses on the impact of dentures on articulation and voice quality. Poorly fitting dentures can make speech formation and voice clarity difficult, which can lead to unclear pronunciation and reduced speech intelligibility.3 It is therefore important to ensure the correct fit of dentures and to visit the dentist regularly, especially for speech professionals and singers.

Gum health has also been linked to a person’s quality of life. Studies have shown that healthy gums can promote a fuller, more natural smile, which can have a positive impact on emotional expression, self-esteem and overall quality of life. This highlights the link between oral health and mental wellbeing, which is important to consider in holistic health care.4

Getting vocal ergonomics right

Minttu points out that sound production takes place at the level of the larynx, and vocal ergonomics, for example, focuses on “improving” the environment for the vocal cords — such as through proper hydration and vocal warm-ups.

“Oral health can affect swallowing and articulation. Of course, it is possible that a complex infection in the pharynx, for example, could be of dental origin, so oral health comes into play there, possibly also affecting phonation through pharyngeal infection. But this has not been studied as far as I know,” said Minttu.

Minttu also pointed out that oral health can affect a speaker’s willingness to engage in speaking situations and to use their voice. Successful public speaking requires many mental qualities and skills, including confidence, concentration, stress tolerance, courage, creativity and the ability to manage tension. A positive attitude, motivation, empathy with the audience and the ability to deal with potential failure are also required.

Good oral health and oral hygiene are the foundation for a long-lasting smile and the confidence needed to perform. In addition, good oral hygiene maintains fresh breath and reduces halitosis, which can be critical to maintaining confidence in performance situations.

The link between oral health and voice: Practical tips on how to protect both

Studies show that a balanced oral microbiome is crucial for a person’s overall health and even mental wellbeing — just like getting enough sleep is. Interestingly, oral health also plays a significant role in maintaining a healthy voice.

The connection between oral health and voice

Impact on vocal cords: Oral infections, such as gum disease or tooth abscesses, can lead to inflammation that extends to the throat and vocal cords. This can result in hoarseness, discomfort, and even damage to the vocal cords if left untreated.

Systemic effects: Poor oral health can cause systemic infections that affect the respiratory system, further impacting voice quality and health.

Dry mouth and saliva production: Saliva is essential for keeping the mouth and throat moist, which is crucial for clear speech and a healthy voice. Conditions that reduce saliva production, such as certain medications or dehydration, can lead to a dry mouth and a strained voice.

Alignment and oral structure: Misaligned teeth or jaw issues can affect the way we speak. Proper oral health ensures that the teeth and jaw are in the correct position, facilitating clear articulation and voice projection.

Protecting oral health and voice

Regular dental checkups: Visit the dentist regularly for cleanings and checkups to catch and treat any issues early.

Brushing and flossing: Brush your teeth at least twice a day and floss daily to remove plaque and prevent gum disease.

Use of Lumoral: Incorporate the use of light-activated antibacterial treatment developed by Finnish scientists, which enhances oral hygiene. Lumoral helps reduce harmful bacteria in the mouth, providing an additional layer of protection against gum disease and tooth decay. 6,7

Stay hydrated: Adequate hydration helps maintain saliva production, which keeps the mouth and throat moist and supports a healthy voice.

Avoid harmful substances: Avoid smoking and excessive alcohol consumption, as these can dry out the mouth and throat and increase the risk of oral and throat cancers.

Caffeine: Limit caffeine intake, as it can contribute to dry mouth.

Balanced nutrition: Eat a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, lean proteins, and whole grains to support overall health and immune function.

Limit sugary foods: Reduce consumption of sugary foods and drinks, which can contribute to tooth decay and gum disease.

Voice care practices: Warm Up Your Voice: Before speaking for long periods or singing, warm up your vocal cords with gentle exercises.

Avoid overuse: Give your voice regular breaks and avoid shouting or straining your voice.

Manage stress and adapt relaxation techniques: Practice relaxation techniques such as deep breathing, meditation, or yoga to reduce stress, which can affect both oral health and vocal quality.

References

  1. Grinstein-Koren, O., Herzog, N., & Amir, O. (2023). Hyposalivation affecting women’s voice. Journal of Voice, 37(3), 469-e19.
  2. Saghiri, M.A., Vakhnovetsky, A. & Vakhnovetsky, J. Scoping review of the relationship between xerostomia and voice quality. Eur Arch Otorhinolaryngol 280, 3087-3095 (2023). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00405-023-07941-x
  3. Broka, K., Vidzis, A., Grigorjevs, J., Sokolovs, J., & Zigurs, G. (2011). The influence of removable denture design on patient voice quality.
  4. Patel, R. R., Richards, P. S., & Inglehart, M. R. (2008). Periodontal health, quality of life and smile patterns – an exploration. Journal of Periodontology, 79(2), 224-231.
  5. Bergström J, Eliasson S. Dental care habits, oral hygiene and gingival health in Swedish professional musicians. Acta Odontol Scand. 1985 Aug;43(4):191-7. doi: 10.3109/00016358509046498. PMID: 3864337.
  6. Pakarinen, S.; Saarela, R.K.T.; Välimaa, H.; Heikkinen, A.M.; Kankuri, E.; Noponen, M.; Alapulli, H.; Tervahartiala, T.; Räisänen, I.T.; Sorsa, T.; Pätilä, T. Home-Applied Dual-Light Photodynamic Therapy in the Treatment of Stable Chronic Periodontitis (HOPE-CP)—Three-Month Interim Results. Dent. J. 2022, 10, 206. http://hdl.handle.net/10138/350606
  7. Liu Y, Qin R, Zaat SAJ, Breukink E, Heger M. Antibacterial photodynamic therapy: overview of a promising approach to fight antibiotic-resistant bacterial infections. J Clin Transl Res. 2015 Dec 1;1(3):140-167. PMID: 30873451; PMCID: PMC6410618.

Related: World Oral Health Day: A healthy mouth supports brain health