Posted by Dr. Julie Boudreault On 24-05-2023
Tongue tie, otherwise known as ankyloglossia, occurs when the frenulum (the tiny fold of tissue that connects the tongue to the floor of the mouth) is too short or tight, therefore playing a role in restricting the movement of the tongue. This is a relatively common condition estimated to occur in anywhere from 4%-10% of newborn babies, presenting itself more often in boys than in girls.
In this article, we will go over what parents should know about tongue tie in children, including its classic signs and symptoms, causes, diagnosis, and treatment.
Understanding the Signs and Symptoms of Tongue Tie
In children, tongue tie can be identified by a vast range of signs and symptoms, including the following:
- Heart-shaped tongue: Tongue-tied children will generally present with a heart-shaped tongue appearance, and the frenulum may appear abnormally thick or short.
Breastfeeding challenges: Tongue-tied babies commonly experience difficulty with effectively latching onto the breast during feeding and may struggle to properly suckle. For instance, if a baby latches on using their teeth, gums, or lower lip, this may indicate a tongue tie condition while also making breastfeeding an uncomfortable experience for the mother.
Furthermore, babies with tongue tie may also experience difficulty breathing during breastfeeding. This is because the frenulum binds the tongue to the bottom of the mouth, therefore contributing to limited space for airflow while feeding. Unfortunately, this may result in challenges with swallowing the breast milk, which can lead to malnourishment and weight issues.
- Speech challenges: Tongue tie may also negatively impact the development of speech in affected children, leading to difficulty with pronouncing certain sounds such as “t”, “d”, “l”, and “r”. Additionally, children with tongue tie may also have a lisp, or they may speak with a nasal tone.
- Eating challenges: Children with tongue tie may also find it difficult to properly chew age-appropriate or solid foods. This issue can result in potential choking or gagging.
- Tongue mobility challenges: It is common for tongue-tied children to experience a limited range of motion with the tongue, often making it difficult to lift it to the roof of the mouth or move it from side to side.
Exploring the Potential Causes of Tongue Tie
While the exact causes of tongue tie in children are not completely understood, there are several factors known to potentially contribute to the condition, including the following:
- Genetics and family history: There is a possibility that tongue tie is hereditary or passed down to a child from a parent with this condition.
- Problems during development: Tongue tie may be caused by issues with the development of the fetus inside of the womb.
- Environmental issues: Tongue tie may be caused by certain environmental factors during pregnancy, such as exposure to harmful chemicals or toxins.
- Certain medical conditions: There are particular medical conditions that may contribute to a child’s risk of tongue tie, including Down syndrome or Ehlers-Danlos syndrome.
Diagnosis and Treatment of Tongue Tie
Generally, tongue tie in children is diagnosed by a healthcare professional such as a pediatrician or a dentist. This diagnosis is made after examining both the tongue and frenulum with regard to their appearance and movement.
During this evaluation, the medical professional will check for a number of telltale signs and symptoms of tongue tie, including the symptoms mentioned above. If the examiner suspects that the child does have tongue tie, then they may refer them to a specialist such as an ear, nose, and throat (ENT) doctor.
In some cases, a screening tool may be used during an examination for tongue tie, such as the Hazelbaker Assessment Tool for Lingual Frenulum Function (HATLFF), to more accurately evaluate the degree or severity of the tongue tie condition.
Once a specialist has officially determined that a child is suffering from tongue tie, they will discuss the potential treatment options with the child’s parent or caregiver.
Some common treatment options for tongue tie include the following tongue tie surgery procedures:
Frenotomy: Most commonly used for mild to moderate cases of tongue tie, frenotomy involves the simple clipping of the frenulum using surgical scissors or a laser to release the tongue.
Frenuloplasty: A more complex procedure generally used for more severe cases of tongue tie, frenuloplasty involves surgical reconstruction of the frenulum.
For milder cases of tongue tie, simply observing and monitoring the condition may be recommended by the doctor until it is certain that surgical intervention is required. Stretching exercises and speech therapy may also be recommended to help improve the mobility of the tongue.
If you suspect your child may be suffering from tongue tie, it’s essential to consult with a professional such as our pediatric Milton dentists as soon as possible.
Reach Out to Our Team at Milltown Dental Today
Every child deserves a healthy start to oral health care and this includes addressing a tongue tie condition if you suspect your child may be suffering from this ailment.