Tongue-ties, also referred to as ankyloglossia, are the improper development of the tissue (frenum) that connects the underside of the tongue to the floor of the mouth. This restricts the tongue from moving freely and functioning properly.
The frenum may be attached anteriorly or posteriorly, but all anterior tongue-ties have a posterior tie. This condition is usually formed before birth, during the first trimester in utero.
Normally, the tongue should freely move out past the lower lip as well as reach up to the palate (roof of the mouth). But if the frenum is too short or tight, it can restrict the movement of the tongue, which can be an indication of a tongue-tie.
How Do I Know If My Child Has a Tongue-Tie?
Every tongue-tie looks different, and it does take a trained professional to diagnose it. Children can also be asymptomatic even when an oral tie is present, so it’s important to see a pediatric dentist who is trained in diagnosing and treating tongue-ties as early as possible. Here are some noticeable signs of a tongue-tie in infants and young children:
- Breastfeeding issues. Your baby may have a tongue-tie if they are having difficulty staying latched onto the breast or are sucking in at the cheeks and making clicking sounds while trying to nurse.
- Digestive issues. Since they can’t latch properly, a tongue-tied baby tends to swallow a lot more air than needed when breastfeeding, resulting in gassiness and excessive spit-up.
- Nipple pain. The mother may also experience pain in the nipples during breastfeeding, which can lead to scabbing, bruising, or cracking of the nipple.
- Tongue movement problems. This is another visible sign of a tongue-tie where your child has difficulty sticking out their tongue past the lower front teeth or lifting their tongue up to the upper teeth as well as moving it side to side.
- Food texture sensitivity. An oral tie will inhibit proper swallowing since the tongue movement is restricted, so your child may find it challenging to process solid foods even after they have reached the proper age. They will prefer softer food items like purees or mashed potatoes and can come across as “picky”.
- Heart-shaped tongue. The tip of a tethered tongue often appears notched or heart-shaped when it is stuck out.
What Happens If I Leave My Child’s Tongue-Tie Untreated?
There are a host of problems that can arise from undetected and untreated tongue-ties, with some of the most common being:
An oral tie prevents the tongue from staying in its normal resting position (against the palate), causing the palate to remain high and narrow.
This condition can lead to orthodontic crowding because the teeth don’t have enough space to properly align themselves in the narrow jaw, which increases the risk of various dental issues, including poor dental hygiene, dental caries, TMD (temporomandibular disorders), and gum disease.
Obstructive Sleep Apnea Symptoms
Instead of resting against the palate, a tethered tongue will be pulled back into the throat, partially blocking the airway when the child is asleep. This can cause your child to exhibit obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) symptoms, such as snoring, restless sleep, excessive daytime sleepiness, or behavioral problems.
Our tongue needs to be able to move in a full range of motion to pronounce certain sounds. If its movement is limited, so are the sounds produced. A tongue-tie can interfere with your child’s ability to make certain sounds that require the tongue to touch the palate, such as “th”,”z”, “r”, and “l”, as they grow older.
How Soon Should My Child Be Evaluated for a Tongue-Tie?
We strongly suggest taking your newborn for an evaluation as early as possible, especially if they are showing signs of feeding issues, such as the inability to latch when breastfeeding.
Treating Your Child’s Tongue-Tie with Frenectomy
Dr. Anita Gouri is among just a few dentists in the Lafayette area who offers a tongue-tie release procedure, also known as a frenectomy.
She has extensive education and experience in treating tongue-ties in infants and young children. In addition, she uses laser technology to perform frenectomies, which makes it a safe and quick procedure with minimal scarring and very little bleeding to release your child’s tethered tongue.
Our dental team will also walk you through every step following the procedure, including providing post-frenectomy recommendations. You can learn more about what to expect after a tongue-tie revision here.
Will Frenectomy Be Enough?
Unfortunately, in many cases, it takes more than releasing the oral tie to fix the problems. Your child’s tongue muscles will likely have been naturally programmed to move in a restricted way as if the tie is still present, even after it is clipped.
For example, your child might continue having issues eating more textured foods after the surgery because they don’t have muscle memory of how to process this type of food with the freed tongue.
That’s why therapy sessions and tongue exercises post-surgery are necessary in order to get the tongue muscles to learn “new” movements and help prevent reattachment.
Fortunately, at Lafayette Pediatric Dentistry, not only do we provide tongue-tie revisions, we also work with an entire support network of therapists and specialists to whom we can always refer you for your child’s optimal recovery.
This is also part of the reason why getting your child to the dentist before their first birthday is so important! We offer speech, feeding, and airway consultations to check for tongue-ties and other issues in your child’s oral development, allowing us to diagnose and treat them before they cause too many problems.
The Bottom Line
There is misinformation and confusion surrounding tongue-ties, so it is important to properly educate yourself with the help of a tongue-tie dentist near you.
If you would like to have your child evaluated for a tongue-tie, schedule an appointment at Lafayette Pediatric Dentistry today, or contact our office if you have any questions about our frenectomy procedure.
Dr. Anita Gouri and the entire team are passionate about offering the best care so that your child grows into a young adult with a bright smile and future!