When you hear the expression “tongue-tied”, what comes to your mind? Most people will quickly assume it to be someone who has trouble speaking publicly and stutters anxiously when conversing with others. In reality, tongue-tied connotes something more serious. It is actually a medical condition that affects a lot of people, especially for breastfed infants.
Medically known as “ankyloglossia”, tongue tied is when the band of tissue that connects the bottom of the tongue to the mouth’s surface, also called the frenulum, is too small and tight. When this happens, the tongue has limited mobility. Tongue-tie can either be a congenital defect that is present at birth or a hereditary condition that was contracted from a family member. It appears relatively common; between 0.2% and 2% of infants are born with an abnormal frenulum.
To determine if your baby is tongue-tied, have them stick their tongue out while looking at you. This can be hard to do since your baby won’t immediately respond to your request. A good technique to do is to stick out your tongue and let him/her copy you. If they are unable to fully extend the tongue, or if it has a heart form on the edge, get them checked up by their pediatrician immediately. You can also attempt putting your finger inside the mouth with the pad facing up until they begin sucking it. See if the tongue protrudes over the gum line to cup underneath the finger. If not, you should consult a pediatrician.
In some situations, the frenulum retracts on its own during the baby’s first year, and causes no issues in how he/she speaks and feeds. Several different factors contribute to the degree of the condition. If the points of connection are on the very edge of the tongue and the top rim of the bottom gum, speech development and feeding have a higher chance of getting affected than if the frenulum is connected from a further distance at the rear end.
Serious cases of tongue-tie can lead to speech development issues. Some sounds are complicated if not even impossible to produce if the tongue cannot move to its fullest potential, particularly TH, S, D, and T. To add up to producing specific sounds, the condition can also make it difficult for the baby to perform other activities like licking a Popsicle, learning a wind instrument, or French kissing. Although these inabilities may seem insignificant to new parents, it can someday be a huge deal for the child.
The effects of tongue tie can vary from one person to the next. Dental growth may also be impacted with serious cases sometimes causing a distance between the two bottom front teeth. But a more important effect that merits immediate concern is the infant’s ability to breastfeed effectively. To be able to extract milk from the mother’s breast, the infant needs to move his/her mouth and force the tissue against the top palate of the mouth. This constricts the lactiferous sinuses and enables the milk to enter the mouth. If the baby is restricted to move his/her tongue, then the option to breastfeed or even bottle-feed them is crossed out.
A simple medical procedure known as “frenectomy” can be opted to immediately correct the condition. Another painless procedure that can be done in the pediatrician’s office is by simply clipping the frenulum to extricate it and enable the tongue a full range of motion. The procedure only takes a few minutes and does not require any anesthesia or stitches.