Proper tongue function and its significance to oral health, sleep disorders, anxiety, and other issues have become a hot topic in recent years. One of the most debated topics today is a condition called tongue-tie.
Previously thought of as something children will simply grow out of, new research into tongue-tie has brought some alarming information to light.
The negative effects of tongue-tie are present the moment the child is born — for both the infant and the mother. According to The Royal Women’s Hospital, it can cause poor breast milk intake for the baby, and nipple trauma, pain, and decrease in milk supply for the mother.
Unresolved, the consequences of tongue-tie become worse as the child grows. Here’s what you should know about tongue-tie and what to do if your child has it.
The medical term for tongue-tie is ankyloglossia. Health Link explains that tongue-tie occurs when the lingual frenulum, which is the thin piece of tissue that anchors the tongue to the floor of the mouth, is abnormally short. This severely restricts tongue movement.
Tongue-tie is congenital and does not develop after birth. It occurs in up to 10% of babies and is three times more prevalent in boys. So far, there is no known cause for tongue-tie, but genetics is a common explanation since we know that tongue-tie can run in families.
Why Many Tongue-Tie Cases Go Untreated
Tongue-tie is a controversial issue. Some maintain that tongue-tie does not need intervention and will loosen over time. However, more and more experts believe that tongue-tie should be corrected as early as possible. In fact, in the past, tongue-tie was traditionally “snipped” right after birth.
According to the parenting blog The Little Ones, records of snipping tongue-ties go back as early as 1697. Older pediatricians also had a “thrive or die” approach. They automatically screened for factors which could adversely affect breastfeeding such as tongue-tie, and these were then corrected as soon as possible. So why did the practice stop?
During the second half of the 20th century, bottle feeding and formula became popular. Because breastfeeding is not the only way to feed babies anymore, diagnosing tongue-tie become a lost art.
Consequences of Tongue-Tie in Childhood
Untreated tongue-tie in children can have severe consequences. These include many various physical, emotional, and psychological problems.
Starting from infancy, tongue-tie can have a profound effect on a patient’s facial features. The tethered tongue fails to put pressure on the upper jaw, making it grow narrower and longer than it should. It also results in smaller lower jaws. Combined, these make for what is called in dentistry an open bite. Gaps in the front lower teeth and crooked teeth are also typical.
Eating and Oral Hygiene
Throughout their life, these children will find it hard to chew age-appropriate solid foods and tend to have persistent food fads. They usually gag, choke, or vomit while eating. Furthermore, Tongue Tie can cause profuse dribbling.
These poor eating habits are closely connected to bad dental hygiene since it’s difficult to eliminate all food debris from the mouth. Children with tongue-tie are highly prone to dental caries, gingivitis, and other oral health problems.
Children can experience severely delayed speech development and deterioration of speech as they grow older. Due to limited lingual mobility, they cannot properly memorize and achieve correct speech movements. Clear, rapid speech is almost impossible.
All of these have a negative, cumulative effect on a child’s confidence and self-esteem. They can develop lifelong maladaptive habits in an attempt to fit in. Patients can be withdrawn, irritable, and insecure. Summing up this experience, researchers Mukai, Mukai, & Asaoka described it as “living in a state of stress.”
Diagnosis and Treatment for Tongue-Tie
Many parents and guardians may not be aware that their child has the condition in the first place. A dentist trained in sleep disorders will be able to put together the tell-tale signs of tongue tie – such as poor oral hygiene, myofascial problems, sleep-disordered breathing, snoring, and sleep apnea – to reach a correct diagnosis.
Depending on the severity of the condition, minor surgery such as frenotomy or frenuloplasty may be required. Tongue-tie release can be performed by oral surgeons and dentists.
Complications are rare, and healing is often quick and painless. After the surgery, tongue exercises and speech therapy are used to lower scarring and help the child relearn proper tongue movements.
The consequences of tongue-tie affect children on so many levels. Fortunately, tongue-tie release is safe, fast, and can be done at any age. An experienced dentist will be able to guide you through this life-changing process from diagnosis to post-treatment management.