What is a Tongue Tie?
A tongue tie, or ankyloglossia, is an oral condition characterized by a very tight or thick lingual frenulum, the thin membrane that anchors the tongue to the bottom of the mouth. Essentially, the tongue is tethered so close to the mouth that its range of motion is restricted and it cannot move properly. A lip tie, a related condition that often occurs simultaneously, is characterized by an overly tight or thick labial frenulum, the membrane that attaches the upper lip to the gum line. Tongue and lip ties are genetic conditions that often run in families.
Tongue and lip ties can cause various problems for infants, children and adults when it comes to eating, sleeping, speaking, breathing, teeth crowding, teeth decay and more.
Infant Tongue Tie
Infants with a tongue and lip tie have limited tongue usage, affecting their ability to breastfeed, sleep and even breathe. Some common signs of a tongue tie in babies include:
- A weak latch while breastfeeding
- A clicking sound during nursing
- Coughing, gagging or sputtering
- Lip blisters
- Inadequate weight gain due to decreased milk intake
- Reflux, colic or gas symptoms
- Noisy breathing or snoring while sleeping
Symptoms found in mothers include:
- Severe nipple pain
- Flattened nipples after breastfeeding
- Prolonged feedings
- Inadequate breast drainage
- Reduced milk production
Tongue Tie in Children
In children, tongue ties can cause difficulties with speech, eating, breathing and sleeping. When the tongue is tethered closely to the mouth and cannot move properly, it can be difficult for the child to speak clearly. He or she may experience issues with articulation or the pronouncing certain words, especially plosive sounds like “s” and a lisp may develop. Often, a child with a tongue tie is not able to properly place their tongue on the roof of their mouth, which can lead to jaw formation problems, teeth crowding and breathing difficulties. In some cases, the tongue’s limited range of motion can lead to teeth decay because the child is not able to properly keep the teeth clean.
Early detection and correction is key to preventing these problems from becoming more serious as children get older.
Tongue Tie in Adults
A tongue tie in adults can contribute to many dental and orthodontic problems, such as sleep apnea, snoring, jaw and neck pain, chronic headaches, tooth crowding, decay and more.
Identifying a Tongue Tie
There are various degrees of tongue ties, making them difficult to diagnose accurately. And in the case of a posterior tongue tie, the tie is located deeper in the mouth, far underneath the tongue, and isn’t easily visible.
Some common signs of a tongue tie include:
- A tongue that is severely restricted in motion (i.e. you can’t comfortably rest your tongue comfortably on the roof of your mouth, move it sideways to the corners of the mouth or poke it out past the lips).
- A tongue that appears heart-shaped or misshapen when you stick it out (i.e. the frenulum is pulling its center downward).
- You can see or feel the thick, tight tissue where the tongue meets the bottom of the mouth.
If you suspect a lip or tongue tie, talk to your dentist or a healthcare provider who is trained in identifying oral restrictions.
Correcting a Tongue Tie
Tongue and lip ties are corrected with a frenectomy. A frenectomy is a minor surgery to loosen or remove the frenulum tissue, allowing the tongue to move more freely and have a wider range of motion.
Dr. Shetty and her team at Integrative Dental Solutions can perform a frenectomy to release the tongue tie and help her patients recover their optimal oral health. Contact us for more information about a tongue tie release and if it is the right option for you or your child.