A tongue-tie – say that five times fast! Not to be confused with a tongue-twister, a tongue-tie is a medical condition that restricts the tongue’s range of motion. Formally known as ankyloglossia, the condition is present at birth. An unusually short, thick, or tight band of tissue holds the bottom of the tongue’s tip to the floor of the mouth. This can cause a limited range of motion for the tongue in all directions and could alter the tongue into a heart shape when stuck out. Moreover, this condition can cause difficulty speaking, feeding, and participating in other activities during one's life. While it can be fixed, the condition can raise plenty of questions of how it happens.
With normal pregnancy, the lingual frenulum, or the band connecting the tongue to the bottom of the mouth, separates before birth. Simply put, if the lingual frenulum remains attached, it causes a tongue tie. While the cause is largely unknown, it has been noted that genetic factors can play a part.
While tongue-ties do not usually cause major issues, some complications can include difficulty breast-feeding, speech difficulties, poor oral hygiene, and challenges with other oral activities. Breast-feeding requires a baby to keep his or her tongue over the lower gum while latched, but the limited range of motion may cause the baby to chew and affect a baby’s ability to receive nutrition. The condition may also affect a person’s speech, especially with sounds like “t”, “d”, “z”, “s”, “th”, “r”, and “l”. For older children and adults, a tongue-tie might make it difficult to sweep food from the teeth, causing tooth decay or gingivitis. As is expected, it can also cause difficulty in other oral activities, like playing an instrument.
Dr. Michael J. Latshaw, UAB Medical West’s newest Otolaryngologist, explains that while a tongue-tie may not always cause an issue, it’s time to see a doctor when there is trouble breast-feeding, if it affects speech, or interferes with eating. Sometimes the lingual frenulum will loosen itself over time, which resolves the condition. If not, a simple surgical procedure can correct the issue, but it’s important to do so early to improve quality of life.