When we hear the term “tongue-tied”, most of us have a mental image of someone who is struggling to speak in public, but is stammering nervously and is at a loss for words. In reality, tongue -tie is a medical condition that affects many people, and has special implications for the breastfed baby.
The medical term for the condition known as tongue-tie is “ankyloglossia”. It results when the frenulum (the band of tissue that connects the bottom of the tongue to the floor of the mouth) is too short and tight, causing the movement of the tongue to be restricted.
Tongue-tie is congenital (present at birth) and hereditary (often more that one family member has the condition). It occurs relatively often: between 0.2% and 2% of babies are born with tight frenulums.
Most of us think of tongue-tie as a situation we find ourselves in when we are too excited to speak. Actually, tongue-tie is the non-medical term for a relatively common physical condition that limits the use of the tongue, ankyloglossia.
Before we are born, a strong cord of tissue that guides development of mouth structures is positioned in the center of the mouth. It is called a frenulum. After birth, the lingual frenulum continues to guide the position of incoming teeth. As we grow, it recedes and thins. This frenulum is visible and easily felt if you look in the mirror under your tongue. In some children, the frenulum is especially tight or fails to recede and may cause tongue mobility problems.
The tongue is one of the most important muscles for speech and swallowing. For this reason having tongue-tie can lead to eating or speech problems, which may be serious in some individuals.