What is Tongue-Tie?
Most of us think of tongue-tie as a situation we find ourselves in when we are too excited to speak. Actually, tongue-tie is the nonmedical term for a relatively common physical condition that limits the use of the tongue, ankyloglossia. Lip-tie is a condition where the upper lip cannot be curled or moved normally.
The tongue and lip are a very complex group of muscles and are important for all oral functions. For this reason, having tongue-tie can lead to nursing, eating, dental, or speech problems, which may be serious in some individuals.
When Are Tongue and Lip-Tie a Problem That Needs Treatment?
A new baby with a too-tight tongue and/or lip frenulum can have trouble sucking and may have poor weight gain. If they cannot make a good seal on the nipple, they may swallow air causing gas and stomach problems. Such feeding problems should be discussed with Dr. Sierra. Nursing mothers who experience significant pain while nursing or whose baby has trouble latching on should have their child evaluated for tongue and lip tie. Although it is often overlooked, tongue and lip tie can be an underlying cause of feeding problems that not only affect a child’s weight gain, but lead many mothers to abandon breastfeeding altogether.
In Toddlers and Older Children
While the tongue is remarkably able to compensate and many children have no speech impediments due to tonguetie, others may. By the age of three, speech problems, especially articulation of the sounds l, r, t, d, n, th, sh, and z may be noticeable. The evaluation may be needed if more than half of a three–year–old child’s speech is not understood outside of the family circle.
Although there is no obvious way to tell in infancy which children with ankyloglossia will have speech difficulties later, the following associated characteristics are common:
- Vshaped notch at the tip of the tongue
- Inability to stick out the tongue past the upper gums
- Inability to touch the roof of the mouth
- Difficulty moving the tongue from side to side
As a simple test, caregivers or parents might ask themselves if the child can lick an ice cream cone or lollipop without much difficulty. If they cannot, then it may be time to consult Dr. Sierra or another specialist in tongue/lip tie.
For older children with tonguetie, appearance can be affected by persistent dental problems such as a gap between the top or bottom two front teeth. The frenum can also pull against the gingiva (gums) on the front or back of the teeth causing recession. In addition to the esthetic problem, this can lead to sensitivity and pain. The tight lip frenulum may trap food, plaque, and bacteria against the teeth. This is a major factor in Early Childhood Caries (nursing/bottle cavities).
Tongue-tie & Lip-tie Revision Procedure
Tongue-tie and Lip-tie revision is a simple procedure and there are normally no complications. The procedure may be performed as early as the day of birth. The revision can be performed in our office or in the hospital room/nursery before discharge. There are anesthesia options for some children if you desire.
The laser gently removes the frenulum tissue with virtually no bleeding. Stitches are usually not required. The baby is allowed to nurse or feed immediately after the procedure!
After the Procedure
Pain, Bleeding, and Appearance
The discomfort from lip and tongue-tie release usually only lasts for about 24 hrs, although in older children the discomfort may last about 48 hrs. If a lip-tie was released, you may notice some swelling of the lip for a few days after the procedure. For babies, breastfeeding and skin-to-skin contact provide natural pain relief, however your child may need something for pain for the first 24-48 hrs. Acetaminophen (Tylenol), and homeopathics are both effective forms of pain relief. What you give is a personal decision based on what you are most comfortable with.
Stretching exercises after lip and tongue-tie release help to reduce the risk of reattachment and the need for further procedures. You will begin stretching exercises on the day of the procedure, stretching 6 times in 24 hours. Stretches should be quick, you only need to hold them for 35 seconds. We will show you how before the procedure. Children usually don’t like the stretches, and they may cry or fuss but they should calm down quickly once you are done.
One of the most important things to understand when your child has a tongue and/or lip-tie revised is that improvement is rarely immediate. The revision of the frenulum is usually just the first step. Your child will need some time to figure out what to do with the new mobility of their tongue and lip.
The tongue is a muscle, and it becomes used to functioning in a certain way just like any other muscle in the body. When tongue function is restricted by a tongue-tie, the body adapts. Since the tongue isn’t able to function the way it’s supposed to, other muscles have to help compensate. In turn, the muscles that are compensating for the restricted tongue function now aren’t doing their job properly, so more muscles have to help compensate. When a tongue-tie is released, the child has no muscle memory of how to use their tongue without the restriction. It takes time for the brain to figure out how to use it effectively once the tie is released.
As mentioned above, it is very normal to not notice much difference in nursing to start with. Sometimes there may even be a little bit of regression in sucking (things get worse instead of better) for a day or two as your child’s brain tries to sort out how to use their tongue now that the restriction is gone. If you have been pumping and/or supplementing prior to the release of your child’s tongue and/or lip-tie, any changes to your routine should be made very gradually as you keep an eye on your baby’s weight gain.
Should you have any questions or concerns, please contact our office at 813-889-0780. After hours you may contact Dr. Sierra through the answering service. You may also email Dr. Sierra at [email protected] com. You may also request a consultation at any of our 3 Tampa Bay offices and our Bradenton office.
How Do I Find Out If My Child Has Tongue-Tie or Lip-Tie?
If you notice the symptoms above or have questions about the appearance of the frenulum, you may call our office or click here to fill out a contact form.
Many of our patients travel great distances to see Dr. Sierra, so prior to travel, we can arrange a phone conversation and you can email photos to us. There is no charge for phone or email consultations.
Arrangements for laser revision of the tongue-tie or lip-tie can be performed at the first visit if you desire.