Have you ever been tongue-tied? This actually is just a figure of speech. Tongue-tie is a real medical condition that affects oral and facial development, as well as other serious health issues. It is medically referred to as ankyloglossia or tethered oral tissue (TOT).
What is tongue-tie?
Under your tongue is a thin band of tissue called a lingual frenulum, which attaches the underside of the tongue to the floor of the mouth. You can see your frenulum by lifting your tongue and looking in the mirror. In some people, this band of tissue is tighter or thicker than it should be, which restricts the tongue’s movement.
Proper tongue posture involves the tongue resting against the roof of the mouth, filling up the entire upper palate from front to back. This correct positioning allows the maxilla (upper jaw) to grow to its full potential and provides internal support for the upper jaw.
However, if you are tongue-tied, your tongue cannot reach the roof of your mouth because it is restricted by its frenulum. As a result, the upper palate may develop small and narrow, teeth become crowded and crooked, and the lower jaw is set back or recessed. Unfortunately, this unfavored anatomy also leads to a narrow airway, which opens up the door to a host of other health concerns, including airway disorders.
How do tongue-ties form?
Tongue-ties are present at birth. It is not something that you can develop over time, nor is it a condition that corrects itself or goes away without treatment.
For children who live with an untreated tongue-tie, they experience oral myofunctional symptoms such as:
- Speech impediments
- Chronic mouth breathing
- Jaw pain, clenching and grinding
- Frequent headaches
- Head, neck, or shoulder tension
- Forward head posture
- Sleep issues
- Sleep-breathing disorders (Upper Airway Resistance Syndrome, or Sleep Apnea)
- Increased risk of developing cavities and gum disease
- Orthodontic relapse
- Extensive orthodontic treatment
These issues may continue throughout life and lead to serious health consequences if left untreated. This is why it is crucial for children to receive an early diagnosis if they have a tongue-tie. Often, breastfeeding mothers may be prompted to have their infant’s tongue checked if they are struggling to breastfeed because their baby has a poor latch.
How is tongue-tie treated?
Tongue-ties can easily be treated via a minor surgical procedure referred to as a frenulectomy or tongue-tie release. If done during infancy, a local anesthetic is not needed. The procedure takes only a few minutes and can be done as an in-office procedure. Treatment does not stop after the tongue-tie release. Myofunctional therapy may benefit children or adults who have adapted improper orofacial muscle habits as a result of a tongue-tie. In essence, myofunctional therapy is like physical therapy for your tongue and orofacial muscles. The main focus of myofunctional therapy is to strengthen the muscles of the tongue. Typically, the doctor recommends this therapy for about two to three weeks prior to your frenulectomy and for a period afterward until you have proper oral posture, tongue movements, and correct swallowing patterns.
Immediately following a tongue-tie release, it is vital to care for the incision site and follow all post-operative care instructions provided to you by About Face Collaborative. Failure to follow this guidance could result in the tissue growing back, putting you back at square one. Gentle exercises should be simple to perform and completed as prescribed.
What happens if you decide not to treat a tongue-tie?
Untreated tongue-ties will have some degree of effects on craniofacial development and overall health. However, it may be difficult to predict how severe these effects may be, especially in young children. Some studies indicate that children with untreated tongue-ties are more likely to develop sleep apnea and airway-related issues. For adults, the effects are already obvious. You already have experienced compromised craniofacial development and airways if you are an adult living with an untreated tongue-tie. You also have an elevated risk of sleep apnea and myofunctional problems. In many cases, adults with tongue-ties discover that they have TMJ disorder, headaches, or sleep apnea as a result of never seeking treatment. Unfortunately, you may not even be aware that you are tongue-tied, and its effects may have been compounding for decades.
Tongue-Tie Assessment in Raleigh, Durham, and Cary
If you would like to learn more about tongue-tie or schedule an assessment, contact About Face Collaborative by calling (804) 387-7002. Our doctors work together with other airway-focused physicians to diagnose and treat jaw joint and airway disorders, including obstructive sleep apnea and upper airway resistance syndrome in patients of all ages. Start sleeping better and live a healthier life by scheduling a consultation today!