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Tongue Tie: Addressing Concerns in Children

For many parents, their child’s health is a top priority, and any concern with their child’s development is an issue they want to address right away. One common problem that parents deal with is the issue of tongue tie in children. This condition can cause a number of problems if left unchecked, but through the proper knowledge and understanding, parents and medical professionals can address the problem effectively.

What is Tongue Tie?

Tongue tie, or ankyloglossia, is a condition where the thin strip of skin on the underside of the tongue (called the frenulum) is shorter than it should be, making the tongue less mobile and limited in its natural range of motion. This can make it difficult for the child to nurse or to eat solid food, as well as produce sounds when trying to speak.

It is estimated that between 4% and 11% of the population is affected by tongue ties. An infant’s first sign of a tongue tie is often the inability to latch onto the breast while nursing. For older children, the condition can make it more difficult to chew or to speak proficiently.

Symptoms of Tongue Tie

The symptoms of tongue tie can vary from child to child and may not always be easy to spot. However, some of the most common signs include:

  • The tip of the tongue being unable to reach the roof of the mouth and/or unable to fully extend outside the mouth
  • The tongue forming a heart or “V” shape when stuck out
  • <li Difficulty making "ch, sh, s, j, l, r, k, g, and t" sounds

    <li Eating and drinking challenges, such as difficulty swallowing, gagging, reflux, and colicky behavior

    <li Difficulty sticking the tongue out past the lips and not being able to touch the top of the mouth

    <li Playing with the tongue more than with other children

Causes of Tongue Tie

The reasons behind tongue tie are not well understood, but it is widely believed to be caused by genetic factors. Other potential causes of tongue tie may include prenatal and postnatal environmental factors, such as prematurity, low birth weight, and smoking exposure.

Diagnosing and Addressing Tongue Tie

If a parent suspects that their child may have a tongue tie, they should consult with a pediatrician or speech pathologist. A physical assessment will help to confirm the diagnosis and the level of impact on the tongue, as it can vary from almost unnoticeable to quite significant.

Once the diagnosis has been confirmed, the approach to addressing the issue will depend on the child’s age, the severity of the condition, and the child’s overall health. For infants, tongue-tie release surgery, or a frenotomy, is usually the recommended treatment. This is a simple outpatient procedure whereby the doctor uses a laser or scissors to cut the frenulum, which should improve breastfeeding and other feeding problems. The procedure typically takes just seconds and has minimal discomfort for the child.

For older children, the approach may vary. In some cases, speech therapy may be recommended to help the child gain new muscle memory and learn how to use the muscles of the tongue more efficiently. In other cases, a tongue-tie release surgery may be necessary in order to create more movement for the tongue.

Conclusion

Tongue tie is a common condition that can lead to a number of problems if left untreated. However, by understanding the symptoms and the available treatment options, parents can help their children get the help that they need in order to overcome the issue. In most cases, with the right treatment, children with tongue tie can learn to eat, speak, and develop normally.