Are you tongue-tied? Usually, people hear that phrase and think it just means you can’t get certain words to come out. In a way, that’s related to what we think of when we hear “tongue-tied” because our version can affect your speech. But tongue-ties are a real thing, and they can affect more than just speech. They can also pull your gums away from your teeth and allow your teeth to move out of place. Tongue-ties in adults can cause more issues than you may realize.
Freeman Orthodontics has seen the results of too-tight tongue-ties in both children and adults. Tongue-ties are often repaired in small children nowadays, but the corrective surgery, called a frenectomy, wasn’t as common in the past. As a result, we’ve seen more than one adult with tight tongue-ties and the problems they’ve caused. So what are tongue-ties, and what can be done to correct them?
Adult Tongue-Ties: Am I Tongue-Tied?
“What is a tongue-tie?” That’s usually the first question we hear. “How do I tell if I’m tongue-tied?” That’s often the second question. The slang “being tongue-tied” is related to the actual tongue-tie, because a tight tongue-tie can make speech much more difficult, particularly with certain sounds like T, Th, D, Z, S, N, and L.
What is a tongue-tie? It’s a tighter-than-normal little strip of skin under your tongue that connects your tongue to the bottom of your mouth. Also called the frenulum or lingual frenulum, this tissue starts out connecting the tongue completely to the bottom of the mouth in a fetus. Before being born, the baby’s frenulum tissue gets thinner and shrinks so the tongue can move freely. In some cases, though, the tissue doesn’t thin or shrink enough, making it more challenging to move the tongue.
A tight tongue-tie can cause nursing issues, which is often how children are diagnosed with tongue-tie, or ankyloglossia. In addition to nursing issues, a tongue-tie can cause speech and dental issues. Those issues can worsen, and other problems can arise in tongue-tied adults, who can also experience mouth-breathing, sleep apnea, snoring, loose teeth, and gum disease.
You’re probably want to know how to tell if you have a tongue-tie. Here’s the easiest way: Stick out your tongue! If the end looks heart-shaped, chances are you’re tongue-tied. That’s because your frenulum is pulling on the end of your tongue. An adult without a tongue-tie will have a flat tongue.
Tongue-Tie Issues in Adults
Tongue-tie issues in adults can manifest in several ways, and they often appear as time passes. The issues often start at a very young age with nursing issues and can grow and add more problems as the child grows into an adult.
Speech Delays as a Child
A tongue-tie can make it more difficult for the tongue to get into the correct position to form words. This can lead to speech delays in children that become speech difficulties in adults. Adults can develop a lisp or find certain words difficult to say because of the problems forming certain sounds.
Oral Health Issues
The tongue does more than help with speech. It also helps sweep the teeth and gums free of food particles during and after eating. Limited mobility can reduce this in-mouth cleaning, which can cause more tooth decay and gum disease.
Your tongue’s placement at an early age allows the palate (roof of your mouth) to develop high and wide enough to make nasal breathing easier. The palate doesn’t develop properly when your tongue is tied to the bottom of your mouth. This can make nasal breathing difficult and can result in mouth breathing. Mouth breathing can lead to many other issues, from chronic bad breath to dry mouth to gum disease and tooth decay.
The immobility of the tongue can make it difficult to bite and chew certain foods. Patients are often found to have unhealthier eating habits because healthier foods, such as raw vegetables, require more chewing and are harder to eat. This leads to a lower quality of overall health.
Dental Alignment Issues
The lack of ability for the tongue to move and sit properly in the mouth can cause the teeth to come in improperly as a child and shift as an adult. This can cause several dental and orthodontic disorders.
- Malocclusions: With the tongue attached to the bottom of the mouth, its pressure can push on the lower teeth. This can cause malocclusions, including underbites and crossbites. It can also cause gaps between the front teeth.
- Reversal of Orthodontic Treatment: Patients who have had orthodontic treatment can see their teeth shift due to wrong tongue placement. That’s why it’s recommended to repair a tongue-tie before orthodontic treatment.
- TMJ Disorder: A bad bite caused by a tongue-tie can put excess pressure on the temporomandibular joint, or TMJ, which can lead to excessive wear, joint pain, headaches, and neck pain. These are symptoms of TMJ Disorder.
Most tongue-ties are repaired in early childhood when nursing issues are detected. There is a way to fix the problem for those who have tongue-ties as adults. It’s called a frenectomy.
What is a frenectomy? A lingual frenectomy is a surgical procedure that cuts the frenulum, releasing the tongue and giving it more mobility. Patients have found that a frenectomy causes massive changes to their lives because they didn’t realize their limitations before repairing their tongue-tie.
A dentist can perform the frenectomy procedure on an outpatient basis. There is no tongue-tie surgery age limit. It can be performed on infants at around three months, often without anesthesia, because there aren’t enough nerves and blood vessels in the area yet to cause pain. The surgery can be performed with mild anesthesia in the dentist’s office for adults.
What to Expect After Surgery
What can you expect after the tongue-tie release? Patients can expect minor swelling, pain, and bleeding immediately after surgery, but those should improve as the tongue heals over the next few days.
Patients sometimes have to have a form of physical therapy afterward to retrain the tongue and give it the mobility it should have had from the beginning. The treatment will help the patient eat and speak better.
Getting Straight Teeth for Tongue-Tied Patients
Freeman Orthodontics can repair orthodontic issues caused by your tongue-tie. Talk to us about how to repair your tongue-tie! Whether you have an overbite, crooked teeth, or both, we can develop a plan that will work best for you. Start by requesting a free evaluation of your smile, and let us show you how we can help!