What is tongue tie?

Most of us think of tongue-tie as a situation we find ourselves in when we trip over our words when speaking. Actually, tongue-tie is the non-medical term for Ankyloglossia, a relatively common physical condition that limits the use of the tongue.

Before we are born, a strong cord of tissue, the “lingual frenum”, grows in the centre of the mouth to guide the development of mouth structures. This is visible and easily felt if you look in the mirror under your tongue.

A “tongue-tie” is where the frenum is abnormally short, restricting the movement of the tongue. This can stretch or even rupture after mild accidents; however, more often will continue to cause problems throughout life unless corrected.

The tongue is one of the most important muscles for speech and swallowing. For this reason having tongue-tie can lead to eating problems, speech impairment and breathing issues. The tongue position is also important for jaw and facial growth in children.

Tongue-tie in infants

In babies and infants an abnormally short frenum can be a cause of breastfeeding problems that not only affect a child’s health but lead many mothers to abandon breastfeeding altogether. Symptoms of tongue-tie in a new baby include:

  • Difficulties latching/sucking
  • Poor weight gain
  • Excessive dribbling
  • Reflux
  • Vomiting
  • Constipation
  • Issues settling.

These problems should be discussed with your paediatrician and your child evaluated for tongue-tie by an orofacial myologist. 

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Tongue-tie in older children

A tongue-tie may cause multiple developmental problems developing at either a young or older age. In older children, a tongue-tie can cause a number of issues, which include:

  • Inability to swallow normally
  • Sleep disordered breathing
  • Impaired speech
  • Increased cavities and gum disease
  • Dental issues such as open bite, crooked teeth, or overbite.

These issues can be detrimental to your child’s self-esteem and overall health and wellbeing.

An open bite: front teeth do not touch each other when the child closes their mouth. This happens because during swallowing the tongue sits between the front teeth, not allowing the jaws to come together.

An open bite: front teeth do not touch each other when the child closes their mouth. This happens because during swallowing the tongue sits between the front teeth, not allowing the jaws to come together.

Crooked or crowded teeth: because the upper jaw does not fully develop.

Crooked or crowded teeth: because the upper jaw does not fully develop.

A deep bite (overbite) preventing correct development

A deep bite (overbite) preventing correct development

 

What to look for

Parents can look for a V-shaped notch at the tip of the tongue, a thick rectangular shape tongue, inability to stick out the tongue past the upper gum, an inability to touch the roof of the mouth and difficulty moving the tongue from side to side.

As a simple test, parents might ask themselves if the child can lick an ice cream cone or lollipop without much difficulty. If the answer is no, then it may be time to have their child assessed for a tongue-tie.

Treatment

The procedure to correct a tongue-tie is called a frenectomy, a simple, common and relatively painless procedure with little risk of complications. The frenum is either cut or removed. For very young infants, (birth to 18 months old), it may be done in the office of a physician or dental specialist. General anaesthesia may be recommended when a frenectomy is performed on older children.

While a frenectomy is relatively simple, it will make a world of difference to your child, restoring ease of speech and self-esteem and assist in their orofacial growth and development.

Contact Rochelle to organise a consultation and discuss treatment options for your child.