Tongue-tie is known by several other names – ankyloglossia, looped tongue or crooked tongue. It affects thousands of babies, children, and adults but remains little understood. The National Health Service estimates that up to 11% of newborns have tongue-tie.
Tongue-tie can be hard to spot. Also, many health professionals do not routinely check newborns for include tongue-tie. As a result you have many people who grow up and suffer from this undiagnosed condition.
For those with tongue-tie (as well as their parents, and professional guardians), being informed is the very first step towards successful treatment. To that end, here are the answers to top Frequently Asked Questions about tongue-tie.
Does tongue-tie really exist?
This question is at the heart of the tongue-tie controversy. There are people and experts who continue to view it as a fad among the breastfeeding community which does not require intervention. But recent research into tongue-tie is starting to say otherwise.
International board-certified lactation consultant and craniosacral therapist Dr. Alison Hazelbaker points out that tongue-tie has a unique genetic code. Historically, midwives and pediatricians routinely snipped tongue-tie to allow for optimal breastfeeding. With the rise of formula and bottles, however, the practice became less prevalent over time.
Today, numerous studies are being done all over the world to achieve a better understanding of tongue-tie. As more information comes to light, one fact in particular has been proven correct – that tongue-tie is a very real medical condition with its own presentation, complications, and treatment.
What Causes Tongue-Tie?
Tongue-tie is a malformation of the lingual frenulum. This tissue connects the tongue to the bottom part of the mouth. When it’s unusually short, thick, or tight, tongue movement is significantly restricted. Furthermore, it’s a congenital anomaly. It can only occur during the embryonic period and never after birth.
According to Breastfeeding Basics, around 22 babies per 1, 000 births present with tongue-tie. More boys have it than girls. It has a strong tendency to run in families which supports the theory that tongue-tie is genetic.
How can you tell if a child has tongue-tie?
Diagnosing tongue-tie depends on age and severity. It can be diagnosed by dentists, sleep specialists, family doctors, ENT doctors, lactation consultants, speech-language pathologists, and surgeons.
It’s best to leave the diagnosis up to specialists, but as parents, a simple way to check for tongue-tie is to gently swipe your finger under your child’s tongue. How it feels will be a good indicator of the tongue-tie grade:
- Grade I: A noticeable but slight bump can be a sign of submucosal tongue-tie
- Grade II: Significant interference that feels like a bump or tag
- Grade III: Watch out for membrane or skin-like material that catch the finger
- Grade IV: If you touch a flap of membrane or skin that reaches up the tip of the tongue, it can be an indicator of serious anterior tongue tie. In some cases, swiping under the tongue may not be possible at all.
What are the symptoms of tongue-tie?
Swiping under the tongue may not come to mind to those who are not aware of what tongue-tie is in the first place. Fortunately, there are some obvious symptoms that will alert your child’s dentist to possible tongue-tie:
- Speech disorders such as lisps, slow speech
- Excessive salivating
- Problems with swallowing, chewing, and choking/gagging on food
- Difficulty pronouncing specific sounds such as “t” or “s”
- Dental problems like gingivitis and tooth decay due to inability to sweep food debris using the tongue
- Inability to extend the tongue
- Gap in the lower front teeth
- Neck, back, and jaw pain
- Sleep issues
- Unusual tongue shape
Once tongue-tie is diagnosed, your dentist will perform a more thorough examination to identify its class.
Can anything be done about tongue-tie?
Since tongue-tie is a structural anomaly, it needs to be corrected physically. Your dentist may recommend minor tongue-tie release surgery such as a simple frenotomy, or a frenuloplasty for older children.
Complications are rare in tongue-release surgery. Healing is fast, and it only takes a few weeks to dissolve stitches for more complex case. Disruptions to normal routine will be minimal.
Regardless of the procedure, most patients would benefit from speech therapy to correct articulation and improve tongue mobility.
Is it too late for adults?
No. According to Tongue-Tie.net, tongue-tie release can be done safely at any age. Improvements are usually immediate, such as better chewing ability, enhanced sense of space in the mouth, speech improvements, migraine and headache relief, and improved oral health. Another important advantage is treatment of sleep apnea and other sleep disorders.
However, strong oromuscular habits are more ingrained in adults with tongue-tie. Speech therapy is a must to revise these habits.
Thanks to developments in tongue-tie research, an increasing number of medical professionals are taking steps to diagnose and correct tongue-ties. Learning more about tongue tie is a crucial step in protecting infants, children, and adults from its damaging effects.