What is a tongue-tie?

Tongue-tie, or ankyloglossia, is a common congenital condition characterized by a short frenulum that interferes with normal tongue and mouth movement. The frenulum is the short band of tissue located underneath the tongue that connects it to the bottom of the mouth. A similar membrane connects the upper lip to the gum tissue above the two front teeth. When this frenulum is abnormally tight, it’s called a lip-tie.

Interestingly, there’s no apparent cause for tongue- or lip-ties, but doctors have found that boys are more likely to have one than girls, and the condition is often hereditary. 

Both pediatric dentists and pediatricians have seen an increase in demand for tongue-tie treatment, not necessarily because more babies are born with them, but because parents today are more aware of the condition and take a proactive approach to have their babies evaluated and treated. This eliminates the common complications of tongue-tie

How can I tell if my baby has a tongue-tie?

The only way to know for sure if your baby has a tongue- or lip-tie is by having them evaluated by a professional like their pediatric dentist or pediatrician.

Pediatric dentists have specialized knowledge of infant tongue and lip mobility and overall oral function. Their expert eye is more likely to detect subtle signs of trouble that a pediatrician may overlook.

While you wait for your baby’s appointment date, you can take a look for yourself to see if you notice a tongue- or lip-tie. Using clean hands, gently move your baby’s tongue upward to the roof of their mouth to see if their tongue seems restricted. You can also gently lift their upper lip and see if the frenulum there appears too tight. 

Even if your baby seems to have normal tongue and lip movement, we strongly recommend following through with a professional evaluation if they’re exhibiting symptoms such as:

  • Difficulty latching and staying latched
  • Frustration or reluctance to nurse
  • Sputtering or gagging reaction when nursing
  • Slow weight gain or failure-to-thrive indications

These are infants’ most common symptoms of a tongue- or lip-tinurse. Breastfeeding mothers may also notice that they’re experiencing a lot of breast pain and nipple tenderness when nursing.

How can a tongue-tie affect my baby’s life?

An untreated tongue-tie can lead to several complications, and these problems don’t stop after weaning either. Ties can make ideal development difficult during infancy and toddlerhood and can lead to struggles that persist into adolescence and adulthood.

1. Frustration and Reluctance to Nurse or Eat

Struggling to nurse well is the most distinguishing tongue-tie complication. Babies may be unable to latch well or unable to stay latched for an entire nursing session. Some babies become so frustrated that they lose interest in nursing despite feeling hungry.

The struggle with getting enough to eat doesn’t necessarily stop with the introduction of solid foods. Toddlers may have trouble chewing and swallowing their food because of restricted tongue motion, which can cause gagging or choking. Children may slowly develop a poor relationship with food and very selective eating habits because of this complication.

2. Poor Weight Gain and Digestive Issues

Difficult nursing and eating naturally lead to developmental and digestive troubles. Babies with tongue- and lip-ties tend to lag behind in growth and, in severe cases, may fail to thrive until the tie is revised. It’s also common for babies with tongue-ties to experience frequent bouts of colic and gassiness caused by swallowing air while nursing.

Digestive issues can also carry through to weaning. For example, being unable to thoroughly chew food or being reluctant to eat a varied, nutritious diet can lead to chronic digestive upset and concerning weight loss.

3. Delayed Speech or Difficulty Speaking

Tongue and lip movement are crucial components in speech, especially when a toddler or child is in the very early stages of speech development. If a child can’t achieve a normal range of motion, they may experience delayed speech, have general difficulty trying to speak, or develop a speech disorder.

4. Increased Risk of Tooth Decay

Children with tongue ties may be at a higher risk for developing oral health issues. The reason is that restricted tongue movement doesn’t allow children to naturally clean the surfaces of their teeth after eating, something we all tend to inherently do after a meal. The result is more food debris left on the surface of the teeth, which in turn promotes plaque buildup and subsequent tooth decay or gum inflammation. 

The only way to solve these problems and prevent your baby from experiencing complications as they grow is to have their tongue- or lip-tie revised with a frenectomy.

What is a frenectomy?

A frenectomy is a simple procedure that permanently reverses tongue- and lip-ties. Traditionally, frenectomies were performed with a standard surgical scalpel to clip back the overly tight frenulum. Parents would then help their baby regain proper tongue or lip movement with a series of physical exercises recommended by their pediatric dentist or pediatrician.

While physical exercises are still an integral part of helping your baby recover, you can say goodbye to the scalpel! Many pediatric dentists, including our dentists at Spinnaker Pediatric Dentistry, have adopted a more modern approach to tongue-tie revisions in the form of laser frenectomies.

A laser frenectomy is gentler and has unique benefits compared to traditional methods. For example, using a soft-tissue dental laser takes less time and is more comfortable for the baby. Laser frenectomies also heal faster with less swelling and discomfort and a lower risk of infection.

Book your baby’s laser frenectomy at Spinnaker Pediatric Dentistry in Salem, Oregon.

Worried that your baby has a tongue tie or is exhibiting complications of tongue tie? For a tongue- and lip-tie evaluation or a laser frenectomy, you may schedule your baby’s appointment by calling our office or using our convenient online form.