Oral problems in children are often difficult to spot, particularly in infants. In fact, tongue-tie (one of the more common oral issues faced by infants) is often overlooked by parents in favor of other explanations. Most commonly identified by outward indicators such slow weight gain or painful nursing habits, tongue-tie can severely impact breastfeeding for both mothers and infants.
Understanding the Issue
The lingual frenulum is the piece of tissue that holds the tongue to the bottom of the mouth and assists with movement of the tongue when eating, drinking, and speaking. If the frenulum is too short and/or thick at birth, this is referred to as ankyloglossia or tongue-tie. In most cases of tongue-tie, the frenulum has developed in a way which limits the tongue's ability to move and can cause a number of problems with daily activities. Infants impacted by tongue-tie may have difficulty latching properly while feeding, which can cause problems with the digestive system. Typically, explains Dr. Laura Westover of Oregon Pediatric Dentistry, "[c]hildren that have tongue ties can have problems in 3 major areas [including] increased risk for cavities on back teeth, speech, and digestive issues (including acid reflux, constipation, upset stomach, excessive burping or gas)." Fortunately, if your baby suffers from ankyloglossia, a relatively simple, in-office procedure called a lingual frenectomy can be performed to alleviate discomfort and distress caused by tongue-tie.
Understanding the Procedure
When deemed necessary, many pediatric specialists are able to perform lingual frenectomies to remove or reduce tongue-tie in infants and young children. A lingual frenectomy is best described as the gentle, removal and/or reduction of tissue (the lingual frenulum) connecting the underside of the tongue with the floor of the mouth. Depending on a variety of factors including a child's age and degree of lingual restriction, the procedure may be performed with nitrous oxide (“laughing gas”) and local anesthetic, or parents may choose to have the procedure performed without the use of a numbing agent. Although the use of a local anesthetic ensures children do not feel pain during or after the procedure, some parents opt to avoid anesthetic, as the numbness may produce an unsettling feeling and discomfort for very young children. Procedures conducted without local anesthetic are equally as safe for children but may result in minimal pain, akin to that of an ear piercing.
As a parent, tongue-ties can be extremely difficult to recognize, that's why our specialists are always available for consultations! Our pediatric specialists are trained to identify and correct issues associated with tongue-ties in a way which considers your child's unique needs. If you believe your child may be affected by a tongue-tie, contact us today to schedule a consultation with a team near you.