Of all the possible childhood medical conditions, the inability to stick out one’s tongue doesn’t seem like all that much of a burden. After all, generations of parents have scolded their little ones for expressing themselves by using a good ol’ raspberry.
However, not being able to show your tongue actually represents a congenital condition called ankyloglossia, where the tip of a patient’s tongue is tethered to the floor of the mouth by a short, thick band of tissue. This can lead to problems eating and speaking, or difficulties in breastfeeding.
However, Dr. Saadia I. Mohammed, founder of Palm Beach Pediatric Dentistry, is recognized an expert in a surgical procedure to reverse Ankyloglossia, what’s commonly called a ‘tongue-tie.’ The process, called a frenectomy, removes some or all of the connecting tissue and allows the tongue to move freely.
The simple and safe operation can quickly improve a child’s quality of life – tasks like eating and chewing will become easier, any discomfort will be minimized.
If your child has ankyloglossia and you want to learn more about the condition and available options, here’s some information to consider.
A closer look at Ankyloglossia
According to the American Academy of Otolaryngology, we all begin with our tongues connected to our mouth. However, as many people grow, the connection recedes and our tongues move independently.
A pediatrician or pediatric dentist can diagnose ankyloglossia and discuss whether surgical removal or reduction is appropriate. If the child is doing well and there’s no discomfort it may just be monitored as he or she grows – if it recedes naturally, no surgery will be needed.
Possible reasons for recommending surgery can include:
- Eating/diet. A child’s tongue and lips may not be able to properly clamp a mother’s breast. Or they may have problems chewing or swallowing if the tongue is obstructed.
- Speaking. With limited tongue movement, they may have difficulty making certain sounds or speaking clearly.
- Oral health. If the tongue pulls on everything in the floor of the mouth, it could affect tooth development. Food may build up or it may be difficult to adequately brush.
- Social problems. Children with a tongue-tie can still be bullied by peers for not looking or speaking normally.
- Input from medical providers or speech therapists.
Patients can receive a full sedation or localized numbing of the tongue and frenum area.
The actual surgery involves making an incision with a scalpel or laser. The surgery can sever the frenum or remove pieces of it to make it thinner and move better. The incision can either start at the floor of the mouth or where it connects to the tongue.
Dr. Saadia is a certified pediatric dentist who practices laser dentistry. With laser dentistry, Dr. Saddia can perform a frenectomy without the use of a scalpel or sutures and maximize the body's rate of healing.
Though it may be fun to wiggle the free tongue around, there is typically a recommended 24- to 48-hour healing period. Laser dentistry makes it possible for a child to eat right away after a frenectomy, though it is discouraged that anything to tough be chewed directly following surgery. Vigorous straw use is also discouraged for 24-hours as this could dislodge any clotting and healing.
Parents are encouraged to watch for signs of swelling, fever or excess bleeding. Bandages aren’t recommended inside the mouth, but parents can still occasionally put gauze on the surgery area/tongue and encourage the child to lightly apply pressure.
Any swelling that might have taken place can be reduced by placing an ice pack on both sides of the jaw. A doctor also might suggest pain relief in the form of aspirin or prescription medication, or antibiotics to reduce possible infection space.
Dr. Saadia and her staff will schedule a visit to make sure everything is healing properly. Along with visiting the pediatric dentist, patients who had surgery for ankyloglossia may also benefit from the services of a speech therapist, especially if they were speaking poorly, or not at all, prior to the surgery. If a mother wants to attempt breastfeeding if the ankyloglossia has been disrupting it, she can meet with a lactation specialist. Dr. Saadia may also recommend tongue exercises to begin strengthening the mouth.