Tongue-tie is (known as ankyloglossia) is a congenital defect wherein the skin under the infant’s tongue (frenulum) is shorter than normal. Some infants aren’t affected by the condition, but for others it can restrict the tongue’s movement, making it difficult to breastfeed. It can also affect the way a child eats, speaks, and swallows depending on the severity of the condition. Tongue-tie is diagnosed during a routine infant check up, but it’s not always easy to identify.
The condition may become apparent when your baby has problems with breastfeeding. If you’re worried about your having tongue-tie, it’s best to consult your pediatrician. Tongue-tie affects roughly 4-11% of infants around the world and is more common in boys than girls. Sometimes the condition is hereditary and can run in the family. Today we’ll be discussing everything you need to know about tongue-tie. Should you require any more information then get in touch with your local tongue-tie specialist.
Problems with breastfeeding
Tongue-tie can present breastfeeding problems in infants. The baby needs to latch on to the breast tissue and nipple to breastfeed successfully. With tongue-tie, the infant struggles to open their mouths wide and their tongue doesn’t cover the lower gum to protect the mother’s nipple from getting damaged.
You’ll know your baby has tongue-tie when the following symptoms arise:
- Difficulty staying attached to the breast for a full feed
- Baby appears unsettled and hungry most of the time
- Not gaining weight quickly due to lack of breastmilk
- Hearing a clicking sound when breastfeeding – this can also be an indication that you should support your baby with the positioning and attachment while breastfeeding
Tongue-tie can also present other problems for the breastfeeding mom as well. These can include:
- Cracked or sore nipples
- Low supply of milk
- Inflammation of the breast (mastitis)
Not all breastfeeding problems are caused by tongue-tie alone. Most of these issues can be rectified with the right support when breastfeeding. If you’re finding it difficult to breastfeed your infant, consult your doctor immediately to find out the exact cause.
Other signs of tongue-tie
Other signs that may help you identify if your baby has tongue-tie are:
- Unable to poke their tongue past their lips
- Unable to reach the tip of their tongue towards the roof of their mouth
- Difficulty moving their tongue side to side
- A V-shaped or heart-shaped tongue tip
- A square or flattened tongue tip
How tongue-tie can affect your baby
A tongue tie can not only affect your baby’s breastfeeding patterns, but his/her speech and overall dental development as well. Other issues caused by tongue-tie include:
- Speech problems – A tongue tie can interfere with your child’s speech development. He/she might find it difficult to pronounce words that start with the letters s, d, z, th, and even i. They may even find it hard to pronounce words that contain the letter r because they can’t roll their tongue properly.
- Poor oral hygiene – Having tongue tie can make it difficult for the child to clean his/her lower gum. This can lead to a buildup of bacteria that results in tooth decay and gingivitis (gum inflammation). A tongue tie can also cause a gap between the lower front teeth.
- Restriction of tongue movement – Apart from the two aforementioned issues, tongue tie can also restrict tongue movement which makes it difficult to lick food, play a wind instrument, or even participate in activities such as kissing.
What are the treatment options for tongue-tie?
While a tongue-tie is not necessarily a serious condition, it can be rectified through a small surgical procedure. The operation is performed by a qualified paediatric surgeon who specialises in child care and surgery. For babies who have tongue-tie but are able to feed with ease, treatment may not be necessary. But if there are difficulties associated with the condition, it’s best to undergo surgery to correct the problems.
Here are two of the most common treatment options for tongue-tie.
Frenotomy is a surgical procedure wherein the frenulum (a small ridge of tissue that connects the tongue to the floor of the mouth) is cut. The operation is pain-free thanks to use of local anaesthesia. The paediatric surgeon will apply a numbing medicine on the frenulum before using sterile scissors to cut it. The procedure lasts for only a few minutes and is relatively blood-free since the frenulum has few nerve endings and blood vessels.
If the lingual frenulum is quite thick or if additional repair is required in the area, then the paediatric surgeon might recommend frenuloplasty. The procedure is done by using local anaesthesia and surgical tools to cut the frenulum which is then closed using dissolvable sutures.
Preparing for the procedure
As with any medical procedure, there are inherent risks associated with tongue-tie surgery. Some of the risks are:
- Infection on the foot of the mouth
- Excessive bleeding post-surgery
- Damage done to the tongue or salivary glands
But don’t be alarmed as these risks are minimal at best and are very rare. Before setting up an appointment with your child’s surgeon, there are a couple of steps you can take to ensure that you and your child are prepared for the procedure.
- Discuss with your baby’s paediatrician if he/she needs tongue-tie surgery. If they recommend the procedure, they will refer you to a paediatric surgeon.
- Ask everything you want to know about the procedure. The paediatric surgeon will be more than willing to answer your questions so you can rest assured about the entire surgery.
- You can also ask if the procedure can be done at home or in a hospital. Most paediatric surgeons can accommodate home surgery as it’s a quick and simple procedure.
It’s important to prepare yourself from the procedure so you can eliminate anxiety or worry while your baby undergoes tongue-tie surgery. As a parent, knowing everything there is to know about the condition is crucial to the overall health and well-being of your child. That way, you can make an informed decision on whether or not your baby requires tongue-tie surgery.