An oral mechanism examination is a medical evaluation designed to assess the physical condition and function of the mouth, and related structures. A variety of professionals may carry out an oral mechanism exam, including dentists, doctors, and speech therapists. The oral mechanism evaluation may form part of a full head and neck exam, or may be performed in isolation. These examinations are commonly used to diagnose the causes of many different kinds of speech disorders.
The first part of the oral mechanism examination is usually a comprehensive assessment of the facial structure and the physical characteristics of the oral cavity. All of the relevant structures are included in the exam, such as the teeth, the tongue, the roof of the mouth, the jaw, the throat, and the tonsils. Some physical abnormalities that may be discovered, such as a cleft palate, may be quite obvious even to an untrained eye. However, a trained specialist will generally also be able to detect much more subtle malformations. The size and symmetry of all the organs will be checked, as sometimes even a small deviation in, for example, bone shape, can cause a problem with vocalization.
In some cases, the structure of all of the relevant organs is normal, but the function may be impaired. Therefore, the oral mechanism examination also includes an assessment of the movement and functionality of the mouth, and its related organs. Typically, the professional performing the examination 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. The jaw function is assessed, along with the ability of the facial muscles to perform normal facial control, the movement of the tongue, the soft palate, and the rest of the mouth.
A large variety of functional problems may be detected during an oral mechanism examination. For example, paralysis of a certain group of oral muscles may result in an inability to raise the soft palate when talking, causing the voice to sound nasal. Another example might be weakened muscles on one side of the tongue, which could cause slurred speech.
The oral mechanism examination is generally a non-invasive procedure. Minimal discomfort is normally involved, and these exams are regularly performed on young children, as well as on adults. These assessments are important in either discovering or eliminating physical problems that may be at the root of undiagnosed speech disorders.