What is Tongue-Tie Treatment and How Does it Work?

Tongue Tie Treatment

Tongue-tie, also known as ankyloglossia, is a condition present at birth that affects the movement of the tongue. It occurs when the frenulum, a small piece of tissue that connects the underside of the tongue to the floor of the mouth, is unusually short or tight. This restriction can impact a child’s ability to breastfeed, eat solid foods, speak clearly, and even maintain proper oral hygiene.

Tongue-Tie Treatment: Diagnosis

Diagnosing tongue-tie in infants is often a collaborative effort between a pediatrician, a lactation consultant, and an otolaryngologist (ear, nose, and throat specialist). A physical examination of the mouth is usually the first step. The healthcare professional will assess the range of motion of the tongue and the frenulum’s appearance. They will look for signs like a tight frenulum that restricts the tongue from sticking out past the lower gum line or touching the roof of the mouth. In some cases, additional tests may be necessary, such as observing feeding difficulties or speech delays.

Tongue-Tie Treatment: Addressing Breastfeeding Challenges

For newborns with tongue-tie, breastfeeding can be a frustrating experience. The restricted tongue movement can make it difficult for them to latch on properly and transfer milk effectively. This can lead to latching pain for the mother, poor weight gain for the baby, and frustration for both. If tongue-tie is suspected as a contributing factor, a lactation consultant can be invaluable. They can provide guidance on breastfeeding positions and techniques that may help overcome the challenges posed by tongue-tie. These techniques may involve positioning the baby in a way that allows for a deeper latch or using a nipple shield to create a larger surface area for the baby to grasp.

However, if these strategies are not sufficient, a tongue-tie treatment may be recommended. Early intervention with tongue-tie treatment can significantly improve a breastfeeding experience that might otherwise be discouraging for both mother and baby. Studies have shown that frenotomy, the most common tongue-tie treatment, can lead to increased milk transfer and improved weight gain in breastfed babies with tongue-tie.

Tongue-Tie Treatment: The Frenotomy Procedure

The most common form of tongue tie treatment is a frenotomy. This is a simple, in-office procedure that involves releasing the frenulum. A frenotomy can be performed by a pediatrician, otolaryngologist, or dentist. The procedure is typically quick and minimally invasive, taking only a few minutes to complete. There are two main methods for frenotomy: using sterile scissors or a laser. Both methods are effective, and the choice often depends on the healthcare professional’s preference and experience.

During the frenotomy, the frenulum is carefully snipped, allowing the tongue greater range of motion. Anesthesia is usually not required for a frenotomy, as the frenulum contains few nerves. Following the procedure, there may be some slight bleeding, but this is usually minimal and temporary. Discomfort is also typically minimal, and most babies can breastfeed immediately after the frenotomy.

Tongue-Tie Treatment: Aftercare and Potential Risks

While frenotomy is a safe and effective procedure, some aftercare is necessary to ensure optimal healing and prevent complications. Parents will be instructed on how to keep the area clean and prevent infection. This may involve gently massaging the frenulum several times a day to help prevent reattachment. These massages can be done by gently stroking the area under the tongue with a clean finger. Additionally, exercises to improve tongue movement may be recommended by a speech therapist. These exercises can help strengthen the tongue muscles and improve the child’s ability to control their tongue movements.

As with any medical procedure, there are some potential risks associated with frenotomy. These are generally rare, but it’s important to be aware of them before making a decision about treatment. Potential risks include bleeding, infection, and damage to the salivary glands or nerves in the tongue. There is also a small chance that the frenulum could reattach, requiring another procedure. If you notice any signs of infection after a frenotomy, such as redness, swelling, or pus, it’s important to consult with the healthcare professional who performed the procedure right away.

Tongue-Tie Treatment: Beyond Breastfeeding

The benefits of tongue-tie treatment extend far beyond improved breastfeeding experiences. With greater tongue mobility, children who have undergone a frenotomy may experience several positive long-term effects.

  • Speech Development: Speech development can be significantly impacted by tongue-tie. The restricted movement can make it difficult for children to articulate certain sounds clearly. Studies suggest that frenotomy can improve speech outcomes in children with tongue-tie who have speech difficulties. Improved tongue mobility allows for better control over the tongue, which is crucial for proper speech production.
  • Eating Solid Foods: Tongue-tie can also affect a child’s ability to eat solid foods. The restricted tongue movement can make it challenging for them to manipulate food in the mouth and maneuver it towards the back for swallowing. Following a frenotomy, children may find it easier to chew and swallow solid foods, leading to a more diverse and nutritious diet.
  • Oral Hygiene: Maintaining proper oral hygiene is easier with a mobile tongue. The tongue plays a vital role in removing food particles and bacteria from the teeth and mouth. Restricted tongue movement due to tongue-tie can make it difficult to clean these areas effectively, potentially increasing the risk of cavities and gum disease. Improved tongue mobility after frenotomy can contribute to better oral hygiene habits.

Tongue-Tie Treatment: Not Always Necessary

It’s important to remember that not all cases of tongue-tie require treatment. The severity of the condition and the impact it has on the child’s feeding and development will determine if a frenotomy is necessary. In some cases, mild tongue-tie may not cause any problems at all, and the frenulum may naturally loosen as the child grows.

A healthcare professional can assess the individual situation and make recommendations based on the child’s specific needs. They will consider factors like the frenulum’s appearance, the tongue’s range of motion, and any feeding or speech difficulties the child may be experiencing. If the tongue-tie is mild and not causing any issues, a “wait and see” approach may be recommended.

Tongue-Tie Treatment: When to Seek Professional Help

If you suspect your child may have tongue-tie and it’s impacting their ability to breastfeed, eat solid foods, or develop speech properly, it’s important to consult with a healthcare professional. Early intervention with tongue-tie treatment can significantly improve a child’s quality of life.

Here are some signs that might indicate your child has tongue-tie and could benefit from a frenotomy:

  • Difficulty latching on or staying latched during breastfeeding
  • Clicking sounds while breastfeeding
  • Poor weight gain in a breastfed baby
  • Difficulty eating solid foods
  • Speech difficulties or delays
  • Visible restriction in tongue movement

Tongue-Tie Treatment: Conclusion

Tongue-tie is a common condition that can affect a child’s ability to breastfeed, eat, speak, and maintain oral hygiene. If you have any concerns about your child’s tongue function or suspect they may have tongue-tie, a consultation with a pediatrician or lactation consultant can help determine the best course of action. Early diagnosis and treatment, if necessary, can significantly improve a child’s development and overall well-being.

Do you have any questions about tongue-tie or tongue-tie treatment? Share your thoughts and experiences in the comments section below!

Town Hall Dental

Disclaimer: This blog post is for informational purposes only and should not be considered a substitute for professional medical advice. Always consult with a qualified healthcare professional regarding any questions or concerns you may have about your child’s health.