While you may think of being “tongue-tied” when you’re having trouble enunciating certain words, it’s an actual oral condition in children that can impact things such as breastfeeding, airflow, speech, and even dental health.
The condition is present at birth. Some cases are not enough to cause problems for the child, while others may require a simple surgical procedure to correct the problem.
What is tongue-tie?
When a baby is born with tongue-tie, clinically known as ankyloglossia, he or she will have an overly short or thick frenulum that restricts movement of the tongue. The frenulum is a small band of tissue that extends from the floor of the mouth to the bottom of the tongue.
Tongue-tie may be classified as anterior or posterior, or it may be assessed using the Hazelbaker assessment tool for lingual frenulum function (HATLFF). The HATLFF tool assesses tongue function and whether the baby would be a candidate for surgical intervention.
What are the symptoms of tongue-tie?
When a child has tongue-tie, these are the signs and symptoms:
- Difficulty lifting the tongue to the upper teeth or moving the tongue from side to side
- Trouble sticking out the tongue past the lower front teeth
- A tongue that appears notched or heart shaped when stuck out
How can tongue-tie affect a baby’s development?
Tongue-tie can affect a baby’s oral development, as well as the way he or she eats, speaks, and swallows. Tongue-tie can lead to these problems:
- Breastfeeding problems — Breastfeeding requires a baby to keep his or her tongue over the lower gum while sucking. If unable to move the tongue or keep it in the right position, the baby might chew instead of suck on the nipple. This can lead to inadequate nutrition and failure for the baby to thrive.
- Speech difficulties — Tongue-tie can interfere with the ability to make certain sounds, such as “t,” “d,” “z,” “s,” “th,” “r,” and “l.”
- Poor oral hygiene — For an older child or adult, tongue-tie can make it difficult to sweep food debris from the teeth. This can contribute to tooth decay and gum inflammation. Tongue-tie can also lead to the formation of a gap or space between the two bottom front teeth.
- Challenges with other oral activities — Tongue-tie can interfere with other activities such as licking the lips, licking an ice cream cone, kissing, or playing a wind instrument.
How common is tongue-tie?
The exact numbers are unknown, but current statistics point to a 3 to 5 percent occurrence of tongue-tie in children. The numbers may be higher, however, depending upon severity. Newer research is pointing to higher incidence because it has demonstrated that the part of the tongue responsible for suction is the middle of the tongue, not the tip. And this is more frequently impacted by tongue-tie.
What causes tongue-tie?
Typically, the lingual frenulum separates before birth, allowing the tongue free range of motion. But in cases of tongue-tie, the lingual frenulum remains attached to the bottom of the tongue. The reason this occurs is a mystery, but some cases of tongue-tie have been associated with certain genetic disorders.
How is tongue-tie treated?
There are differing opinions on the need to treat tongue-tie. Some doctors recommend correcting it right away, even before a newborn is discharged from the hospital. Others prefer to see if the lingual frenulum may loosen over time, resolving the issue.
When treatment is deemed necessary, Dr. Smith and Feng can address it at Pound Ridge with a frenotomy. This is a simple surgical procedure where sterile scissors are used to snip the frenulum free. The procedure is quick with only minimal discomfort because there are few nerve endings or blood vessels in the lingual frenulum.
If there is any bleeding, it’s likely only a couple drops of blood. After the procedure, a baby can breastfeed immediately.
If the lingual frenulum is too thick for a frenotomy, a more extensive procedure, known as frenuloplasty, is necessary. Dr. Smith can refer you to a surgeon for this procedure.
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Does tongue-tie treatment hurt?
Frenotomy is a simple procedure performed in our offices on Westchester Avenue in Pound Ridge. As mentioned above, there is minimal, if any bleeding. The baby feels little due to the lack of nerve endings in the lingual frenulum. These are simple, painless procedures.
What are long-term problems linked to untreated tongue-tie?
Tongue-tie can impact a baby’s ability to thrive, as it impacts breastfeeding. But problems go beyond those early issues.
Left unaddressed, tongue-tie can cause problems with dental occlusion (misalignment) and orthodontic health. Speech articulation and oral biomechanics may also be impacted by tongue-tie. The ability to learn speech isn’t the problem; it’s problems with pronunciation of certain words.
Schedule your tongue-tie consultation at Pound Ridge Cosmetic Dentistry!
If you are interested in learning more about the tongue-tie treatment options offered at our practice, or if you wish to determine whether you are a candidate for treatment, give our skilled dentists a call today for a personalized appointment. Call 914-764-3540 to reach our Pound Ridge office or fill out the form in our contact page. Our practice looks forward to serving you!