How do you know if you have a tongue-tie, and why should you care?
The humble tongue. Unless you’re getting it pierced or happen to bite it accidentally, it’s not generally on your mind. An often overlooked yet very important organ, it can cause all sorts of problems if restricted. A restricted tongue is called a tongue-tie (ankyloglossia for those of you who must have the proper medical terminology). All of us have a thin membrane that attaches the tongue to the floor of the mouth called a frenum. However, five percent or more of us have frenums that are too tight and restrict tongue movement too much.
In infants, a tongue-tie interferes with the ability to breastfeed. The tongue is important for a correct latch. Infants with tongue-ties often experience excess gas and reflux as well as an inability to nurse well. Mothers of tongue-tied babies report painful breastfeeding because the baby bites rather than sucks. Tongue-tied infants do the best they can to compensate but often fall off the breast or fall asleep during feedings because they have to work so hard. Mothers who don’t realize that a tongue-tie is the problem become frustrated and switch to bottle feeding which deprives both mother and baby of the many benefits of breastfeeding.
If a tongue-tie is not corrected in infancy, it can cause speech and dental problems later on as well as continued reflux. The procedure to release a tongue-tie is called a frenectomy. I do this in my dental office using a CO2 laser. It takes only about 10minutes. It is safe, simple, heals faster than if the frenum was cut with scissors and requires non-hospital visit or general anesthesia. I love doing it because the results are often immediate and are so amazing.
After completing an infant frenectomy, I give the baby to the mother and ask her to breastfeed. Almost always the baby latches better than ever before and the mother says it does not hurt like it did before. For children working with speech therapists, the improvement after a frenectomy is dramatic—the child, the therapist and the parents are thrilled with the results.
Some of the most interesting cases are in adults. Adults who have adapted all their lives never knowing they had tongue-tie are astonished that they can actually lick an ice cream cone or reach food that is in their back teeth. They often report feeling as if they had their back adjusted because of the release of tension, improved speech, end of reflux, fewer headaches and sometimes even an end to snoring. Many people refer patients for frenectomies. Chiropractors understand the extra tension in the neck area that results from having to constantly fight to move the tongue. Lactation consultants and speech therapists know firsthand how troubling a tongue-tie can be for their clients, and how dramatic the results of a frenectomy can be, too.
If you or your child have any of these symptoms, you might try looking under the humble tongue. The problem could be right under your nose.