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Tongue ties are relatively common

Dr. John T. Hansford Jr. is a double-board certified specialist in pediatric dentistry and dental anesthesiology. Opinions expressed are those of the writer.

Tongue ties, also known as ankyloglossia, are relatively common. They occur when the strip of skin beneath a person’s tongue (the lingual frenulum) is shorter than usual, limiting the range of motion of the tongue. This condition is present at birth and can affect people of all ages.

  1. The degree of tongue mobility and function can vary, and not all cases cause significant problems. In some individuals, a tongue tie may not be noticeable or cause any issues, while in others, it can lead to various challenges. Common problems associated with tongue ties include:
    1. * Feeding difficulties in infants: Newborns with tongue ties may have difficulty latching onto the breast or bottle, leading to problems with breastfeeding. This can result in inadequate nutrition and weight gain issues.
    2. * Speech difficulties: Tongue ties can contribute to speech problems, especially in articulating certain sounds like “t,” “d,” “z,” “s,” and “th.” It may affect clarity and fluency in speech.
    3. * Oral hygiene issues: Limited tongue movement can make it challenging to clean the mouth thoroughly, potentially leading to an increased risk of dental issues like cavities and gum disease.
    4. * Emotional and social impacts: In some cases, especially as individuals grow older, the awareness of a tongue tie and its effects on speech or other activities may lead to self-esteem issues or social anxiety.
  2. It’s important to note that not everyone with a tongue tie will suffer these adverse conditions , and the severity of symptoms can vary widely. If a tongue tie is causing significant issues, mothers, lactation consultants and pediatricians may be the first to notice the problem in infancy. If breastfeeding is no issue, but other problems arise in the future, then it is likely that parents, caregivers, teachers, and speech pathologists will identify the issue. A medical or dental professional, such as a pediatric dentist or an ear, nose, and throat (ENT) specialist, may recommend a simple surgical procedure called a frenotomy to release the tongue tie. Several physician and dental specialists provide access to patients needing tongue tie and frenum surgeries. Oglethorpe-based otolaryngologist, Dr. Robbie Pitts says, “I have done frenulum release (a simple snip) surgery for 35 years. [For infants] Never with anesthesia, and never with a significant whimper. The babies are allowed to nurse immediately. The indication in a newborn is simply limited tongue range of motion in a child that is having difficulty latching. In an older, post-lingual child with speech difficulty a multidisciplinary approach with a speech therapist is necessary. Those children would likely need sedation. In these older children there is rarely a benefit if they can protrude their tongue tip past the lower incisors preoperatively.” 

For older patients seeking frenum surgery with sedation, Dr. Stan Satterfield, Dr. Jayni Bradley, and Dr. John Hansford, provide these services. The most common indication for frenectomy after infancy is speech pathology. 

In conclusion, raising awareness for conditions that pose challenges to care and providing resources for treatment is a benefit to our community. 

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