24You’ve probably heard the expression “tongue tied,” meaning that a person doesn’t know what to say. However, did you know that the same expression can also describe a genuine medical condition? It is called ankyloglossia, a condition that is congenital, or present at birth. Ankyloglossia is potentially serious, as a tongue tied baby may have difficulty breastfeeding. However, if your baby has ankyloglossia, the good news is that it is usually fairly easy to treat.
What Is Ankyloglossia?
The term “ankyloglossia” comes from two Greek root words: “glosso,” meaning “tongue” and “ankylo,” meaning “fused” or “fixed.” Thus, ankyloglossia is a tongue that is fused to the bottom of the mouth and unable to move freely.
The frenulum is the band of tissue that connects the tongue to the lower jaw; you can see it if you curl your tongue backwards while looking into a mirror. In order for a baby to have full range of motion of the tongue, the frenulum is supposed to loosen and separate from the tongue during development in the womb. However, sometimes the frenulum remains attached to the bottom of the tongue, resulting in ankyloglossia. It is not known what exactly causes ankyloglossia, although boys seem to be affected more often than girls and genetics seem to play a factor as well.
A baby with ankyloglossia may be unable to place his or her tongue in the proper position (over the lower gum) to breastfeed. Difficulty breastfeeding may lead to “failure to thrive,” meaning the baby is not getting enough nourishment to gain weight and develop properly.
If your baby tries to chew on your nipple instead of sucking it, this may indicate ankyloglossia, as a tongue tied baby may resort to this in order to compensate for breastfeeding difficulties. However, chewing on the nipple will actually impede the baby’s ability to get milk, as well as being painful for you.
Other symptoms of ankyloglossia include the shape and movement of your baby’s tongue, which may appear heart-shaped or notched when your baby sticks it out. Your baby may also have trouble sticking out the tongue, lifting it to the upper jaw, or moving it from side to side.
How Is Ankyloglossia Treated?
Once the condition has been diagnosed and you decide to fix the issue, an ankyloglossia surgery dentist can perform a simple outpatient procedure called a frenotomy in which the frenulum is cut free using a Laser Frenectomy procedure. This procedure is virtually pain free and requires no anesthesia. If this simple tongue tie procedure with a laser is not sufficient, a surgical procedure called a frenuloplasty, or reconstruction of the frenulum, may be an option.
If your baby is having difficulty breastfeeding, contact your pediatrician or lactation consultant right away.