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Posterior Tongue Tie: Complications and Treatment Options

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Medically Reviewed By Colgate Global Scientific Communications

You've probably heard someone utter the phrase that they were "tongue-tied" if they could not elucidate what they were trying to say. Perhaps you've even used the phrase yourself. But did you know that tongue-tie is an actual birth condition that can limit a tongue's movement? In fact, it's pretty common. According to the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, it affects nearly 5% of all newborns. If you have a newborn with a posterior tongue-tie, we'll let you know what that means and inform you of the options for treatment that are available so your child can grow up with a level of oral health that makes you both smile.

What Is Posterior Tongue-Tie?

Let's briefly cover some basic tongue anatomy so you can better understand this condition.

  • The anterior tongue is the front two-thirds of the tongue
  • The posterior tongue sits near the back of the throat and makes up the other third
  • The lingual frenulum is the web of tissue under your tongue that connects to the floor of your mouth

Tongue-tie happens when your newborn's frenulum is abnormal and restricts the movement of their tongue. If it's in the front two-thirds of the tongue, it's anterior tongue-tie. If the condition is in the back third, it's posterior tongue-tie.

According to the Mayo Clinic, tongue-tie can affect anyone but is more common in boys than in girls, and it can also run in the family.

Posterior Tongue Tie Symptoms and Complications

Anterior tongue-ties are easier to diagnose because the tissue connecting the tongue to the floor of your child's mouth would be visible. Posterior tongue-ties, however, aren't as noticeable and can be tricky to detect in a newborn. Some signs your infant may have this condition include:

  • Difficulty breastfeeding
  • Inability to stick their tongue out past their teeth (their tongue may appear notched or heart-shaped when they try to do so)
  • They are unable to lift their tongue or move it side to side
  • You notice they aren't licking their lips or sweeping food from their teeth

If you think your newborn may have tongue-tie, speak with your healthcare professional. Difficulty breastfeeding can prevent your child from getting the important nutrients they need. Without treatment, a tongue-tie can cause problems later in life, too. Having limited tongue movement can make speech more challenging. A tongue-tie can also increase a person's risk of tooth decay and other oral hygiene issues.

Treatment for Posterior Tongue Tie

The treatment your healthcare professional will recommend depends on the severity of your child's condition. It's possible for some cases of posterior tongue-tie to eventually loosen up and relax on their own. According to John Hopkin's Medicine, if breastfeeding is the only concern, your doctor may recommend the aid of a lactation consultant or infant feeding expert to see if the situation can be resolved without your child needing surgery.

But some doctors prefer to prevent any possible eating or speech issues that may develop in the future by performing surgery right away. The two most common procedures for tongue-ties are:

  • Frenotomy
    Sterile scissors are used to make a small cut in the frenulum allowing your child's tongue to move more freely.
  • Frenuloplasty
    This more extensive procedure may be recommended if your child's frenulum is too thick for a frenotomy. During this procedure, your child would undergo general anesthesia while the surgeon uses surgical tools to release the frenulum. They then use sutures to repair the incision. Speech therapy and tongue exercises may be part of the recovery process.

These are relatively simple procedures, and, in general, they're safe, too. But like any surgery, there are potential risks that are important lookout for, like:

  • Severe bleeding
  • Infection
  • Injury to the salivary ducts
  • Or trouble breathing

If you notice any symptoms or side effects that concern you after your child's procedure, contact your healthcare professional right away.

It can be scary to hear that your newborn has a condition that can affect their ability to feed, speak, and breathe properly. The good news about tongue-tie is that it's common, and in most cases, it's treatable. And now that you know more about this condition, you'll be better able to have an informed discussion with your pediatrician to ensure your little one grows up happy, healthy, and with a tongue that moves freely.

Oral Care Center articles are reviewed by an oral health medical professional. This information is for educational purposes only. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always seek the advice of your dentist, physician or other qualified healthcare provider. 

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