Our team has recently seen an increase in the number of questions from parents regarding tongue tie and whether their child’s speech sound difficulties are caused by a possible tie.  Today’s blog post answers these questions.  Read on to find out what a tongue tie is, what effects it can have and how it is diagnosed and more.

What is Tongue Tie?

Tongue tie, which is also known as “ankyloglossia,” occurs when a person has a short lingual frenulum (the part that holds the tongue to the base of the mouth), resulting in reduced mobility of the tongue. Tongue tie occurs in 4 to 10 percent of the population, appearing more in boys than in girls. Tongue tie is only diagnosed when the short frenulum is preventing normal movement AND function — meaning that if a person has a short frenulum but is able to function normally, they would not be diagnosed with a tongue tie. This is a really important distinction and one that must be considered carefully when deciding what, if any, action is taken to correct it. 

What effects can a tongue tie have?

Tongue ties can cause difficulty with feeding and oral hygiene. For example, a baby might have difficulty with breastfeeding or bottle feeding. Children or adults might have difficulty eating, swallowing or clearing food from their lips or mouth. It can also affect a person’s dental health, if a person is not able to remove food debris from their mouth by sweeping their tongue around their mouth as a person normally would. 

Does a tongue tie affect speech?

In a review of the research on the effects of tongue tie on speech, there was no evidence that suggested tongue ties cause speech difficulties. So, it is rarely the case that tongue ties would affect speech development. Children and adults with tongue ties typically have normally developing speech and are able to produce all the sounds needed for speaking. 

In addition, research also shows that surgery is rarely needed to improve a child’s speech, and surgery is not supported as a way to prevent a child from having future speech difficulties. 

Who is involved in the diagnosis of a tongue tie?

A tongue tie can be identified by speech pathologists, lactation consultants, dentists, doctors, paediatricians, maxillofacial surgeons and ear nose and throat (ENT) specialists. 

How is a tongue tie diagnosed?

To diagnose a tongue tie, the health professional will need to examine how well the tongue is able to function. For a baby, this could involving assessing the following areas:

  • Feeding and latching onto a bottle or breast
  • Strength, efficiency and position of a baby’s tongue when feeding
  • Level of pain while breastfeeding.

For children and adults, the following areas would be assessed:

  • how well the tongue is able to function for eating and swallowing, including clearing the mouth and chewing
  • how well the tongue is able to function for speech. 

How is a tongue tie corrected?

Surgery should never be considered as the first option, especially for older children and adults. For older children and adults, traditional speech therapy is recommended prior to considering surgery. 

For babies, if they have been thoroughly assessed and the tongue tie is negatively affecting their ability to feed, surgery can be considered. There are different types of surgery for tongue tie, which can be discussed with the appropriate health professional.

Who can I talk to for more information? How can I find out more? (and you should!) 

For more information about tongue ties and speech or feeding difficulties, please consult a speech pathologist or a paediatrician. 

Another useful resource is the podcast series created by Brisbane-based, Dr Pamela Douglas.  Listen here: https://pameladouglas.com.au/podcasts