Posted by Dr. Julie Boudreault On 8-02-2021
Tongue-tie, or “ankyloglossia” by its medical name, refers to the condition when a baby is born with their tongue attached to the bottom of their mouth. As babies grow in the womb, this is natural, but by the time of birth, the tongue should only remain connected by a small piece of skin called the frenulum.
When this doesn’t happen a baby is “tongue-tied” because their tongue remains tied to the tissue below. As a result, they can have issues with feeding, and if left unchecked by other challenges such as improper speech. Here we dispel eight common myths about tongue-tie to remove some of the mystery about the fairly common condition.
1. Clipping a Tongue-Tie is the Best Solution
The idea of a quick snip of the skin might seem simple in theory, but when this procedure is used it leaves thick tissue that then needs to be released eventually. Although there is an initial improvement, the patient needs to complete “post-op exercises” to avoid the procedure from being incomplete, or worse from the skin and tissue growing back.
Instead, the entire “fascia” must be released so the tongue can have normal function and the symptoms of tongue-tie are resolved. Today, lasers are used, providing a less painful surgery for tongue-tie to remove the tissue, protect the tongue, reduce bleeding, and also provide immediate healing.
2. You Can “Stretch Out” a Tongue-Tie
Children with tongue-tie have a thick webbing of fascia that consists of collagen fibres that have limited “stretch”. In fact, the area’s ability to stretch is less than 1%. As a result, if the tongue-tie isn’t treated, they will face difficulties in the proper development and the tongue-tie will remain into adulthood. This can make it difficult to speak properly, lead to snoring and even cause chronic pain of the head, shoulders, and neck. It just makes sense to treat it as soon as possible to avoid having your child struggling to deal with it.
3. Tongue-Tie Is Harmless
Unfortunately, a tongue-tied baby faces many potentially dangerous scenarios, starting with difficulty breastfeeding or bottle-feeding. This results in issues to thrive including poor weight. It is also frustrating for mothers who fear their babies are not getting enough food. Babies with tongue-tie tend to suffer from painful reflux, colic, and gassiness. Both mother and baby suffer from poor sleep, due to these problems, as well as their very slow eating.
Other issues include choking and gagging, and as the child grows, speech development is affected. As mentioned above, as adults they can have issues such as snoring, headaches, neck pain, and shoulder tension.
4. Treating Tongue-Tie is the Latest Medical “Fad”
Unfortunately, changing views have some parents thinking the need to treat tongue-tie is simply a fad. However, in the era of fake news and misinformation, it is important to know that tongue-ties have been recognized as an issue for thousands of years, resulting in various treatments to “release” the tongue.
By the 20th century, it was clear tongue-tie impeded normal function, but for some reason in the 1920s, the idea of treatment became less well received in the medical community. This idea stuck in some families so older generations might still advise against it. However, as breastfeeding becomes more popular again, the need to treat tongue-tie is more important than ever. Besides, with the simplified treatment offered by laser surgery, it is even less invasive and easier for parents to have their babies treated without pain or even bleeding.
5. There is No Such Thing as “Posterior Tongue-Tie”
A posterior tongue-tie is what is considered asymptomatic tongue restriction without any clear string holding the tongue in place. So in these cases, the child suffers from the same restrictions as a tongue-tie, but the restricted fascia or webbing under the tongue is not visible during diagnosis.
A thorough investigation by lifting the tongue from behind however will reveal the tight webbing of the fascia. As with a regular tongue-tie, once released the child will see the same improvements including better feeding, sleep, and speech as the child matures. In the case of a corrected posterior tongue-tie, the child also experiences better breathing when lying down as the tongue no longer falls back into the airway.
6. Lasers Can’t Cure Everything
While this is true, lasers can cure tongue ties. As with any treatment, once tongue-tie diagnosis is confirmed and a thorough history is reviewed, laser surgery is discussed if it is a suitable treatment for the patient’s condition. Through examination we will determine how restricted the tongue might be, to decide whether or not surgery is recommended. Parents receive a thorough explanation about the treatment, the pros and cons, and the possible effects if surgery is not performed.
Laser surgery only takes about 15 seconds, using a CO2 laser that is far safer and more precise than a scalpel or scissors to perform the surgery. Plus, parents can hold their baby to comfort them during the procedure. If we deem the surgery is necessary because the tongue-tie is significantly affecting your baby’s health and quality of life, we review everything so parents can make an informed decision.
7. Tongue-Ties Just Need Time to Correct Themselves
There is more at stake than the tongue-tie itself. When mothers are trying to breastfeed a tongue-tied baby, they experience pain and even mental distress as they struggle with worries their baby is not thriving. Bottle-fed babies also suffer from tongue-tie, because as mentioned, tongue-tie leads to issues such as excessive gas, slow feeding, milk leaking out of the mouth, and reflux.
Both mother and child are unhappy, and the baby can fail to thrive as they don’t get enough nourishment. All these things considered, even if it just takes time to correct itself, that time could be months of underfeeding and stress. Instead, it is much wiser to have the procedure and allow mother and baby to bond and enjoy a better quality of life.
8. Tongue-Tied Children Can Just Have Speech Therapy
Speech issues associated with tongue-tie can’t always be treated with traditional speech therapy. This is not something speech therapists assess, and as a result, the therapy is not as effective because the tongue-tie itself is interfering with normal-sounding speech. Also, as children try to compensate for incorrect tongue placement to speak properly, it can cause issues with dental development. Removing the impediment at an early age avoids the issue altogether.
If you would like to learn more about the common myths about tongue-ties, call Milltown Dental at (888) 250-8819 or contact us here.