It has only been with the cultural shift toward breastfeeding that tongue-ties are being identified in infants. Because of this, there are many adults who have tongue-ties but are unaware. These unidentified tongue-ties can cause problems not only in infancy but that continue through adolescence into adulthood. It is never too late for a person to have their tongue-tie released. The benefits for some people can be life changing and well worth the time and effort.
Movement and position of the tongue is crucial in order to properly form sounds. When the tongue is restrained through a tongue-tie, it may not be possible to form the sound. Some people are able to compensate for the lack of mobility, but not everyone. In those situations, the only way to properly produce the sound is to release the tongue enabling it to move. I have had patients go through years of speech therapy with minimal improvements until their tongue-tie was released.
Tongue-ties and crowded adult teeth are directly related to each other. When the tongue has proper mobility, it rests against the roof of the mouth. This causes the mouth to expand laterally, which allows for proper space for all of the adult teeth when they come in. Often we hear parents say that when their child had primary teeth, all of their teeth were straight but once their adult teeth came in they became crowded. When we see a child with perfectly straight primary teeth and no gaps, it is a red flag. Primary teeth should have such large gaps that you can drive a truck between them, or so the dental saying goes. Adult teeth are significantly larger than primary teeth and therefore take up more space, so if primary teeth don’t have space, the adult teeth will be crowded.
In addition to growing the maxilla laterally, the tongue also drives the development of the face forward. When the tongue is tethered down, we will often see kids present with an overbite where the mandible is recessed. This is not only aesthetic, but can cause other health issues. Since the tongue is attached to the mandible, when the mandible is recessed the tongue will also be farther back in the mouth than is ideal. When this happens, the tongue often invades the airway space and can interfere with breathing. In some cases when the airway has been compromised, we will see people compensate for this by holding their head forward. In the short term, this opens up their airway and improves their ability to breathe. However, this affects whole body alignment. The forward head posture stresses the muscles of the neck, back and torso over the long term and can lead to chronic pain.
Food Texture Issues
When infants with tongue-ties encounter solid foods, a tongue-tie may begin to present issues. This may look like picky eating, where the child will gag on food as they try to eat it. It could be a child who will eat mashed potatoes but won’t touch cubed potatoes. It could also be a child who won’t eat a food because of how it feels in her mouth…she doesn’t like the texture. Or perhaps a child has with bad indigestion because they aren’t chewing their food or are hoarding it away in the cheek. These children may also be the loud, messy eaters. The tongue is designed to help move food around the mouth as well as to clean food out of the mouth. When someone is tongue-tied, the tongue isn’t able to do these jobs. This will result in certain foods getting caught in the corners of the cheek or being unable to move food around to properly chew it. If someone can’t chew food properly one of two things happen. Indigestion happens because a person can’t properly digest food that isn’t adequately chewed, or the person avoid those foods. Neither of these solutions are great for our long term health. Releasing the tongue tie on toddlers can really improve their ability to digest food. If any of these are problems that you are dealing with then consider having your little one’s tongue evaluated.
TMJ & Chronic Head and Neck Pain
Nothing in one part of the body can be isolated from the rest of the body. The tongue is no exception. The tongue is connected to so many muscles throughout the head and neck that if it is restricted it can throw all of the other muscles off the balance. In adult patients, the tongue-tie can manifest itself as chronic TMJ, headaches/migranes, head and neck tightness, snoring and sleep apnea as well as chiropractic adjustment that won’t hold. The frenulum beneath the tongue is made up of thick collagen fibers which have only an ever-so-slight ability to stretch. Releasing the tie can allow the body to relax into a posture that was not possible with a tongue tie, relieving years of tension-causing problems.