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Ankyloglossia: Symptoms and Treatment Options

If your infant has trouble breastfeeding, or if your child has trouble maneuvering their tongue, they may have a condition known as ankyloglossia. What exactly is it? Is there a procedure to fix it? We're here to walk you through symptoms for children and what you can expect.

What Is Ankyloglossia?

Ankyloglossia (also known as tongue-tie) is a congenital condition, meaning it affects some children from birth. In those with tongue-tie, the thin piece of tissue (lingual frenulum) that attaches the tongue to the floor of your child's mouth is shorter or bigger than typical.

This connection limits the mobility of your child’s or baby’s tongue and may cause challenges with breastfeeding and speech. According to the Rochester Medical Center, only 50% of children with tongue-tie experience trouble breastfeeding.

But what causes ankyloglossia? Embryos’ tongues are fused with the floor of their mouths before detaching during development. In those with tongue-tie, the tissue does not properly recede or thin during this stage.

If you’re stressed about this condition, first take a deep breath. Remember that there’s no way to prevent tongue-tie, and it affects about 10% of children. You’re not at fault or alone. If a procedure is required to treat tongue-tie, it’s typically simple to perform and painless for infants.

Symptoms

The presentation of your child’s condition can vary greatly; you may find that your child’s or baby’s daily life is uninterrupted if their symptoms are mild. Symptoms can vary based on your child’s stage of life.

Symptoms for a tongue-tied baby or child may include:

Infants

  • Trouble breastfeeding
  • Heart-shaped or notched appearance of your child’s tongue
  • An audible “click” during nursing
  • Difficulty putting on weight
  • Abnormally high hunger level

Young Children

  • Difficulty speaking or speech impairment
  • Trouble swallowing
  • Problems kissing, sticking their tongue out, moving it from side to side, or positioning it to their mouth’s roof

Mothers

  • Uncomfortable breastfeeding
  • Low supply of milk
  • Tender nipples

Regardless of your child’s symptoms, it’s a good idea to check in with your medical professional if you think they may have ankyloglossia.

Treatment Options

According to the Cleveland Clinic, some children do not experience severe enough symptoms to require treatment. If symptoms cause enough difficulty for feeding, swallowing, or speaking, your medical professional may recommend a corrective procedure.

A frenectomy (also known as a tongue-tie division) consists of simply cutting the tissue connecting the tongue and floor of the mouth. It will comfort you to know that the treatment is generally painless for infants, though your medical professional may recommend anesthetic or over-the-counter pain relievers.

Aftercare

The good news is that the procedure to treat ankyloglossia is generally simple enough that children generally don’t require pain medication.

It’s important to provide the aftercare instructions provided by your medical professional as exactly as possible. Reach out to them if you have questions or concerns about their health or care. It’s also recommended to schedule follow up appointments to ensure proper healing and that the procedure was a success.

Bleeding

Blood may be present in the mouth or stool (it will be black in color from stomach acid) on the first day of recovery.

To help stop bleeding:

  • Take cloth or gauze and submerge it in ice water. Apply this with mild pressure on the affected area for 1-2 minutes
  • Breasting or using a bottle may also help stop the flow of blood

Important note: If your infant or child is having trouble breathing, swallowing, or is bleeding an abnormal amount, seek immediate medical care.

Breastfeeding

You may want to transition to normal breastfeeding over a 1-2 week period, from nipple shields, bottles, or formula. If you have difficulty breastfeeding, rest assured knowing there are a wealth of resources available at your disposal. Please consult your medical professional or a lactation specialist for their advice.

Healing

If your child is an infant, there are some steps you can take to encourage healing and prevent scarring:

  • Softly pat your child’s lips to encourage them to stick out their tongue
  • Gently play tug of war with your child’s mouth using your finger or a pacifier
  • Press lightly on the back of your child’s tongue for 3 seconds
  • Rub the upper and lower gums back and forth to try and get your child’s tongue to follow your movements

It can be anxiety-provoking to read up on your child's health, but you're making a great decision by becoming informed on their condition. Pat yourself on the back for looking out for their best interests (and yours!) by increasing your knowledge of tongue-tie and the associated symptoms and treatment.

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This article is intended to promote understanding of and knowledge about general oral health topics. It is not intended to be a substitute for professional advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always seek the advice of your dentist or other qualified healthcare provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition or treatment.

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