The tongue is one of the most important parts of the body. It helps us eat, chew, drink, kiss, swallow, talk, and more. From early fetal development through childhood, the tongue continues to form and strengthen. Sometimes, however, a tongue-tie will form and fail to detach, which hinders the ability to function and also restricts the airway’s expansion. How does a tongue-tie happen? Here’s why and what you can do about it if it does.
When Does the Tongue Develop?
Amazingly, the tongue begins to form in the fourth week of embryo development. As it develops, it becomes free and mobile with the exception of in one location. This spot is called the lingual frenulum, which is underneath the tongue. Between 6-11 weeks, in normal fetal development, the frenulum shortens. However, in some cases, the frenulum fails to shorten and instead remains attached and restricted, which is called Ankyloglossia or a tongue-tie.
How Does a Tongue-Tie Happen?
Typically, the tongue’s lingual frenulum separates before birth and the tongue is free from its full restriction. When it doesn’t and is only partially free, it’s called a tongue-tie. Health professionals aren’t 100% sure why some infants are born with tongue-ties, although it may be related to genetic factors, MTHFR mutations, folic acid, and epigenetics. Regardless of the reason, tongue-ties cause problems immediately after birth in many areas, such as:
- Feeding & difficulty latching
- Speech difficulties
- Facial & jaw development
- Poor oral hygiene
One of the biggest reasons we are concerned about ties in the mouth is they can impact growth and development of the jaw! The ability of the tongue to elevate to the palate expands the jaw bone, allowing for more room for the teeth, better breathing and sleep, and a healthy TMJ. Jaw growth happens EARLY, with 75% being complete by age 6. When we can catch ties early, we can capitalize on this growth period.
How to Spot the Signs of a Tongue-Tie in Babies
Here are the most common signs to watch for to see if you or your child has a tongue-tie:
Babies show symptoms such as:
- Poor latch quality/difficulty maintaining latch
- Colic, reflux symptoms, excessive gassiness, spitting up, or hiccups
- Difficulty with milk transfer/poor weight gain/failure to thrive
- Frustration at the breast
- Mouth breathing or snoring
- Falling asleep at the breast and short sleep episodes
- Frequent/extended nursing cycles
- Clicking, gumming/chewing of the nipples
- Choking, gulping, gasping at the breast
- Leaking milk from the corners of mouth/improper seal
- Inability to flange upper or lower lips
- White coating on the tongue
Adults show difficulties with:
- Body tension
- Clenching teeth
When dealing with babies, it can be hard to tell if they have a tongue-tie. So if you are having difficulty feeding your baby, you can lay your baby on their back and gently feel under their tongue. It should be able to lift up easily and the frenulum should be quite thin. If you’re unsure whether your child has a tongue-tie, schedule a consultation as soon as you can to ensure your child develops properly.
How Do You Correct a Tongue-Tie?
Unfortunately, without treatment, a tongue-tie won’t go away on its own. It also won’t stretch out over time. Studies show the connective tissue causing the tongue-tie is very resistant to stretching or even tearing. This is because it is made up of Type 1 collagen, which is quite strong.
When a tongue-tie is the problem, we recommend a tongue-tie release (a frenectomy); a procedure that allows for more mobility and freedom to grow and function. Dr. Turner uses a LightScalpel CO2 laser for the tongue- and lip-tie release procedures, which is a device that produces a concentrated beam of light. The LightScalpel CO2 vaporizes the area (numbed with numbing jelly in infants or a local anesthetic for adults), cleanly and precisely, while sealing blood vessels at the same time.
Schedule An Appointment
If you’d like to learn more about dealing with tongue-ties, or think you or your child may have a tongue restriction, schedule a virtual consultation with Dr. Turner today. We’ll get to know you and evaluate your family’s unique needs.
Want to learn more? Download our Parent’s Guide to a Healthy Child here.