The lingual frenulum (or frenum) is a small fold of tissue that attaches the tongue to the floor of the mouth. Proper development of this particular frenum begins in utero and continues after birth. Ideally, it should attach under the tongue at about midpoint, but occasionally the attachment can be unusually thick, short or tight. This condition is known as ankyloglossia or more commonly described as tongue-tied. In infants, this condition is almost always addressed and treated. For adults, it's common to leave untreated unless it interferes with the normal function of the tongue.
The role of the lingual frenum is to anchor the tongue to the floor of the mouth. It is crucial that the attachment point allows the tongue to move in a way to facilitate proper speech, tasting and good digestion. This mighty muscle, when moving freely and properly, also works to clean our mouth after eating.
Lingual Frenulum and Abnormal Attachments
An abnormally attached lingual frenulum can affect a number of important nutritional and developmental milestones in infants and children. Today, ankyloglossia is routinely looked for after birth. If deemed necessary, they are referred for a frenectomy, which is a short and usually painless procedure that can rectify the attachment. According to the American Association of Otolaryngology, early recognition and proper treatment can help avoid nutritional and developmental difficulties in childhood.
Lingual Frenulum and Abnormal Development
So what about the adults? As mentioned, very often no treatment is recommended unless it interferes with a patient's quality of life. However, research has recently shown a connection with improper lingual frenulum attachment and obstructed sleep apnea in adults. The Sleep Research Society concluded that a short lingual frenulum leads to abnormal development of the mouth and jaw and can result in a small upper airway.
Our tongues play an important role in speech, nutrition and development. Our jaws and oral cavity rely on a proper lingual frenulum attachment to aid in the formation of our adult mouths. Seeking the care and advice of your dentist or other health care specialist will help to recognize problems in the early stages. And remember to take care of your tongue! Try a specialized brush with a built-in tongue cleaner on the back of the head, such as the Colgate® 360 toothbrush, for a healthier whole mouth clean. Tongue care is as important as any other oral hygiene routine.