If you were asked what "tongue-tied" means, you would probably answer that it is a metaphor for not being able to speak due to social awkwardness or extreme surprise. However, the phrase "tongue-tied" actually comes from a real condition where infants and toddlers are unable to swallow properly and cannot learn to speak. If you think your infant or toddler might have this problem, there are some tell-tale signs and ways to treat it.
Signs That Your Infant or Toddler Might Be Tongue-Tied
In infancy, the first obvious sign that your baby might be tongue-tied is that he or she is not latching on to your breast properly. Your baby is not getting enough nutrition from your milk because he or she is unable to move his or her tongue easily, suckle and move the milk to the back of his or her throat. If you do not breastfeed, then you will notice that your baby only drinks an ounce or less at a time and demands to be fed more frequently. Your baby may also seem to be choking on something when he or she tries to swallow and may spit up more frequently.
Toddlers who are not diagnosed in infancy with ankyloglossia (tongue-tied) will have major delays in speech and physical growth. The tongue cannot form the right consonant and vowel sounds when he or she tries to speak. The delays in growth are directly related to the inability to move food around while he or she chews and tries to swallow.
How to Treat Tongue-Tied Disorder
You will need to visit an oral surgeon to get a proper diagnosis. Some tied tongues are quite obvious, as the frenulum, or membrane that holds the underside of the tongue in place, comes right to the tip of the tongue. Other cases are not so obvious. The frenulum is connected in the right spots under the tongue, but it may be too short to move the tongue around. An oral surgeon can examine your baby or toddler's mouth and tongue to see if there really is a problem with ankyloglossia.
If the oral surgeon determines that your child has ankyloglossia, then a simple out-of-office procedure can correct it. Your baby's or toddler's mouth is numbed just a little, and then the surgeon cuts the frenulum back to the point where it should be fastened or cuts the tongue loose from its shortened frenulum. You will have to monitor your child's tongue until it heals and make sure the frenulum does not reattach itself. If it does, you will have to revisit the oral surgeon to cut it loose again and possibly stitch it into a better position. For more information about the process, contact a clinic such as Terrence E. Robbins DMD, Inc.
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