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Is Your Child Tongue-Tied? Here's How To Tell If Your Child May Have Ankyloglossia And How A Pediatric Dentist Can Treat It

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While ankyloglossia is a fairly common condition, you may not have heard of it—most are more familiar with the more common name of "tongue-tied." Ankyloglossia is a condition that you're born with, and it affects both children and adults. However, symptoms are most likely to appear early on in a person's life. It prevents full movement of the tongue, so it often causes difficulty eating and speaking. To find out more about this common condition that affects children, read on.

What Is Ankyloglossia?

The lingual frenum is a thin membrane of connective tissue that attaches your tongue to the bottom of your mouth. If you stick a finger underneath your tongue (please wash your hands first), you can feel it. In ankyloglossia, the lingual frenum is either too short or positioned too far forward in the mouth.

When the lingual frenum is shortened or too far forward, it restricts upward movement of the tongue. That's the reason why the condition is sometimes called "tongue-tied."

How Do You Know if Your Child Has Ankyloglossia?

In most cases, ankyloglossia becomes apparent when a child has difficulty breastfeeding. The position of the labial frenum prevents an infant from fully attaching to the mother's nipple—this usually results in a painful breastfeeding experience for the mother. Many mothers switch to bottle-feeding as a result of this, where they find that their infant has no difficulty drinking from the bottle. This is due to the fact that ankyloglossia very rarely affects bottle-feeding.

However, some infants with ankyloglossia have no difficulty breastfeeding at all. Instead, the symptoms of ankyloglossia appear when the child is 4 or 5 years old, when it begins to cause speech difficulties. Since children with ankyloglossia have great difficulty moving their tongues upward, it affects their pronunciation. It's often particularly apparent when a child pronounces the letter "R."

Can Ankyloglossia Cause Dental Problems?

When a child's tongue movement is restricted by ankyloglossia, he or she may try to compensate by extending the lower jaw out instead. This allows children to pronounce sounds like the letter "R" in a manner that sounds more correct. Unfortunately, the repeated extension of the lower jaw may eventually cause the child to develop an underbite.

How Is Ankyloglossia Treated?

Most pediatric dental care services treat ankyloglossia by using a laser to cut away the lingual frenum. This is a procedure called a lingual frenectomy. It's a very quick procedure that's done in your pediatric dentist's office. Children usually recover in a day or two, and complications from the surgery are rare.

Your child will need to sit still during the process. If your child isn't able to do this, your pediatric dentist may decide to place him or her under general anesthesia for a few minutes in order to complete the procedure.

If a pediatrician or a speech therapist have told you that your child has ankyloglossia and may require a lingual frenectomy, schedule an appointment with pediatric dental care services. You may also wish to schedule an appointment if your child has difficulty breastfeeding or is encountering speech difficulties. The treatment for ankyloglossia is a rapid procedure with a very short recovery time, and it can help your child avoid developing an underbite as he or she grows.