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What is a Tongue Tie and How Can a Houston Dentist Help

Exploring Tongue Tie: How a Houston Dentist Can Provide Support

Tongue ties, medically termed ankyloglossia, are present in about 5 percent of newborns and consist of a tight band of tissue under the tongue – the lingual frenulum. While everyone has a lingual frenulum that anchors their tongue inside the mouth, in people with a tongue tie, this tissue extends further and restricts the tongue’s movement range. While an exact cause hasn’t been identified, genetic factors are believed to be involved, as it runs in families.

In some people, a tongue tie can cause problems, but there is a procedure that can remove one, known as a frenectomy. Consulting with a local Houston dentist will determine when it’s time to consider a frenectomy and how the Houston dentist will perform the procedure.

What are the Potential Complications of a Tongue Tie?

Tongue ties are present at birth when the lingual frenulum fails to separate from the bottom of the mouth during development. A doctor can identify a tongue tie visually, but it may not be diagnosed until the child has difficulties with breastfeeding. When babies nurse, they must keep their tongue positioned over their lower gum. If the lingual frenulum interferes with this, the baby may chew the nipple instead of nurse, resulting in pain for the mother and insufficient nutrition for the child.

In addition to breastfeeding issues, a tongue tie may also present the following complications or symptoms:

  • Problems with speech – There are numerous phonograms (verbal sounds) that children with ankyloglossia may have difficulty articulating. Specifically, any sounds that require the tongue to touch the tip of mouth (“t”, “d”, “n”) may be an issue to pronounce.
  • Problems with oral health care – Ankyloglossia makes it more difficult to sweep the tongue over teeth and remove food debris. As such, people with a tongue tie may be at higher risk of developing tooth decay, cavities, gum disease and other oral health complications.
  • Problems with orthodontic development or bite – Ankyloglossia alters tongue movement and positioning in the mouth, and this can cause a number of orthodontic and bite-related problems. For example, if the lingual frenulum holds the tongue down too tight, jaw development may be compromised. If the patient cannot swallow properly and instead forces their tongue between their teeth when swallowing, it may cause bite abnormalities and prevent the bite from closing completely.

Any activity that involves the use of the tongue or mouth may be affected by a tongue tie. This could be eating certain foods (like licking ice cream) or even playing a wind instrument.

Tongue ties vary in severity (using a tongue range of motion ratio) and a minor tie may not present any obvious problems. Outcomes are highly individual, though, so whether to remove the tie or not will depend on whether it’s causing significant issues for the patient.

A Frenectomy Procedure: How Dentists Remove a Tongue Tie

In problematic ankyloglossia cases, the dentist may recommend a lingual frenectomy – a procedure intended to remove a tongue tie. Lingual frenectomies may be performed at any age, including newborns with breastfeeding issues. In fact, it’s typically better to perform a lingual frenectomy as early as possible in children with a severe tongue tie, as the procedure is well tolerated among infants and can resolve any future speech issues early on.

Traditionally, frenectomies have been performed using a pair of dental scissors or a scalpel. During this procedure, the tip of the tongue is held up against the top of the mouth to expose the frenulum and hold it taut. Then, a single, quick cut is made to remove the excess tissue. Depending on the tie’s severity and the patient’s age, sedation or a local anesthetic may be recommended, but general anesthesia is generally not needed.

What to Expect During and After a Frenectomy

In newborns and infants, a lingual frenectomy can be performed quickly and with minimal discomfort and bleeding. In fact, most breastfeeding infants can return to normal breastfeeding activities right away.

In older children and adults, the primary concerns with a lingual frenectomy are pain and bleeding (though the risk of both can be reduced with a laser frenectomy procedure). Recovery time is measured in days and most patients are back to normal within a week. The dentist can also provide medication to manage any discomfort during the recovery process, if needed.

For the first few days after a lingual frenectomy, patients are instructed to eat soft foods. As discomfort wanes, patients can incorporate more solid foods back into their diet.

Laser Frenectomy is an Ideal Option for Removing a Tongue

Dental lasers are in widespread use among practitioners, as their excellent precision makes them the perfect tool for removing unwanted oral tissues. During a laser frenectomy, the lingual frenulum is burned out instead of cut. The tissue is essentially vaporized during treatment.

Laser frenectomies are becoming more common. That’s because there are several benefits associated with laser tongue tie removal, including:

  • Reduced pain and discomfort – Patients generally report less pain and discomfort following a laser frenectomy. This is in line with other dental laser procedures, where the laser’s precision minimizes tissue damage to the treatment site and its immediate proximity.
  • Reduced bleeding – During a laser frenectomy, the lingual frenulum is vaporized using light energy instead of being cut away. In effect, the treatment site is cauterized as the frenulum is removed, sealing off blood vessels and preventing excessive bleeding.
  • Rapid treatment time – A laser frenectomy can be completed in a matter of minutes, especially in younger patients where local anesthetic or sedation are usually not required. The procedure is done so quickly that there is little time for anxiety to set.
  • Rapid recovery time – Bleeding, inflammation and infection risks are minimal with a laser frenectomy. Sutures are not needed, and post-procedure discomfort is typically lower compared to traditional frenectomy, so patients can return to normal daily activities sooner.
  • Minimal risk of frenulum reattachment – Frenulum reattachment is rare among all patients, but it’s even lower among those who received a laser frenectomy. By cauterizing the treatment area and sealing off blood flow, reattachment is close to impossible.

A Reputable Houston Dentist Can Help with Tongue Tie Troubles

Many people live with their tongue tie with minimal issues, and many may not even know it’s there. For others, ankyloglossia is a problem that starts from breastfeeding age, and only causes more problems with time.

Fortunately, lingual frenectomies are simple procedures for experienced dentists, many of which also have modern technology to help with the condition. Dental lasers, for example, can speed up treatment time, reduce discomfort, reduce bleeding and help patients quickly bounce back from the procedure.

If you or your child is hampered by a tongue tie, consider making a dental appointment with your Houston Dentist to assess the tie’s severity and discuss the potential treatment options.

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