We use the phrase “tongue tied” to refer to being dumbstruck, unable to speak because of shyness or embarrassment. But the tongue can be literally tied thanks to a little band of connective tissue that attaches the tongue to the bottom of the mouth. And being “tongue tied” can come with some concerning health risks.
What is Tongue Tie?
If you look into a mirror, open your mouth, and touch your tongue to the roof of the mouth, you’ll see a thin band of tissue stretching between your tongue and the bottom of your mouth. This tissue is called the lingual frenulum, and for many people it never causes a problem. But some people are born with a shortened frenulum, a restriction officially known as ankyloglossia.
Recognizing tongue tie can be difficult, particularly since some children adapt well to tongue tie and never experience symptoms, and for others, the tissue simply stretches as they grow. However, there are a few red flags that could suggest that a baby suffers from tongue tie. The first red flag is difficulty breastfeeding. Many babies with tongue tie have trouble latching onto their mother’s breast and sucking. This can prevent babies from getting adequate nutrition from breastfeeding, make feedings longer and more frequent, and even cause pain to the nursing mother.
And even babies who breastfeed easily can still suffer the negative effects of tongue tie. A shortened frenulum can stunt dental development, sometimes leading to a bad bite, narrow dental arches, mouth breathing, cavities, and maybe even TMJ.
For this reason, all children should be examined for tongue tie, to ensure that they can be treated early if they have it.
How is Tongue Tie Treated?
The solution to tongue tie is an easy procedure called a frenectomy. A frenectomy simply disconnects the tissue, allowing the tongue to move freely. Nowadays, thanks to technological advancements, this procedure no longer needs to be done with a scalpel, and doesn’t require stitches. Instead, it can be performed quickly and precisely with a laser, eliminating even the need for anesthesia. The actual procedure only takes about three minutes to perform!
After the frenectomy, the key to ensuring a healthy recovery is performing tongue stretches for the next three to four weeks. This will make sure that the frenulum tissue does not reconnect, and will help your child develop the healthy sucking response that their tongue tie prevented them from having.
The healing process will come with some discomfort, but the success rate for frenectomies is very high, and acetaminophen or ibuprofen will help lessen the discomfort.
If you think your baby may need a frenectomy, you can read all about what to expect before, during, and after the procedure on our website. Have more questions about tongue tie surgery, or need to have your child examined for tongue tie? Call (803) 781-9090 or contact us online to make an appointment with our experienced dentists.