Tongue-tie is a term used for the common structural defect called ankyloglossia. The lingual frenulum is a thin membrane that connects the underside of the tongue to the floor of the mouth. Having a tongue-tie simply means that this membrane is shorter and/or tighter than expected, causing the tongue to be partially or fully fused to the floor of the mouth. Ankyloglossia is often diagnosed shortly after birth because it can hinder a baby’s ability to be breast- or bottle-fed.
You should discuss any tongue-tie concerns with your child’s pediatrician. He or she can help you decide if treatment is necessary or appropriate, and refer you to the correct specialist. The defect is treated by a physician – usually an ENT (ears, nose and throat) specialist or oral surgeon – who cuts the frenulum using scissors and stitches, electrocautery, or a laser.
Before discussing how a tongue-tie can affect speech development, it’s important to highlight all of the functions of the tongue. Made up of eight different muscles, the tongue helps us speak, suck, swallow, chew, drink, eat, clean our teeth and gums, kiss and push out nonfood items. Plus, is warms the air when you breathe through your mouth. And, we can use it just to be silly, like blowing raspberries and making funny faces.
Tongue-tie signs and symptoms vary by age and can be related to all functions of the tongue. An infant may have difficulty latching and feed slowly, be unable to coordinate sucking and swallowing with breathing, or want to feed constantly around the clock. For babies on purees and finger foods, ankyloglossia may cause gagging, vomiting, sensitivity to specific textures, picky eating, and not gaining weight as expected. Older children may be messy eaters, have tooth decay, drool, snore, or need a drink to help swallow food.
So does tongue-tie affect speech development? Although some children with delayed speech development or speech disorders do have a tongue-tie, there is no evidence that shows ankyolglossia directly causes speech problems. In fact, many children with a tongue-tie learn to compensate well. Therefore, surgical treatment of a tongue-tie is not typically done solely because of difficulty with speech. However, in some cases, it may affect oral motor skills in a way that prevents clear speech production. Children with ankyloglossia may have imprecise speech, especially for the L and TH sounds and when talking quickly. If you are concerned about your child’s speech, a speech-language therapist can help you determine the nature of your child’s speech delay or disorder and develop a treatment plan.
For more information on tongue-ties, contact Tiffany at Budding Voices at 410-739-6828 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
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