Tongue ties aren’t just a situation you run into when you meet a celebrity, love interest or idol. Tongue tie, also known as ankyloglossia, is a condition of the tongue and mouth that can lead to several difficulties but is also easily treated. Here’s what you need to know about this condition.
What is a tongue tie?
As we develop in utero, our cells divide and multiply to create the well-known structures of the body. In 4-11% of us, this includes a slight variation in the mouth resulting in a tongue tie.
Take a moment to look under your tongue, and you’ll notice a thin band of tissue that attaches the tongue to the bottom of the mouth. This is the lingual frenulum. In most individuals this lingual frenulum separates in utero, becoming loose enough to allow a range of movement. For those with ankyloglossia, the band of tissue under the tongue anchors it too tightly to the bottom of the mouth limiting the range of motion for the tongue.
Is it tongue tie?
While it’s still unknown exactly why some individuals develop tongue tie, it is believed to be related to genetics. Experts have found that it occasionally runs in families supporting genetic factors, but it can affect anyone.
Tongue tie is often diagnosed in a newborn’s initial physical exams, but can also be identified in babies and children through signs such as:
Inability to stick out the tongue
The appearance of a notched or heart-shaped tongue when it’s stuck out
If your baby or child begins experiencing any of these signs or symptoms, contact your doctor to schedule a physical exam.
How to treat tongue tie
There is still some controversy over treating tongue tie in newborns. Some professionals prefer to delay any action allowing the lingual frenulum to loosen on its own occasionally, but treatment for tongue tie is relatively simple and often painless.
There are two main treatment options for ankyloglossia:
Frenotomy – Sterile scissors are used to cut the frenulum and release its hold on the tongue. As there are few nerves and blood vessels in the frenulum, this is generally little pain or blood. Depending on the child’s age, this can be done with or without anesthesia in the doctor’s office.
Frenuloplasty – In more difficult cases, where a frenotomy is unable to correct the tongue tie, your ENT may recommend a frenuloplasty. Completed under general anesthesia, this procedure also releases the frenulum but requires sutures to close the remaining wound. Tongue exercises may be recommended post-surgery.
While both procedures are relatively simple, there are still possible complications that may occur including bleeding, infection, or even damage to the tongue or salivary glands. As with any procedure, scarring can occur.
Laser surgery and electrocautery are also treatment options to discuss with your ENT if your child has been diagnosed with tongue tie.
If you believe your child is affected by tongue tie, contact your ENT today to schedule an appointment. Diagnosis and correction can be straightforward and help avoid more serious problems now and down the road.