All The Facts About Tongue-Tie And How Children Suffering From It Are Helped By Speech Pathologists

You have more than likely heard the term “tongue-tied” used to describe someone struggling to say something when they are flustered, but as any speech pathologist will tell you, the medical condition “tongue-tie” has a lot more to it than just stumbling over a few words. Those who have tongue tie often have severe difficulties with their speech and ability to eat.

Read on, and we will explain what tongue tie is, how it affects those who suffer from the condition, how it is diagnosed if surgery is deemed necessary, how the decision is made to proceed and whether to consider seeing a speech therapist.

What Is Tongue-Tie?

It is with some warped humour that the person who decided upon the medical word for tongue-tie chose “ankyloglossia”, which seems difficult enough to pronounce even for those with perfect speech. As for the condition itself, it is found in people with a short frenulum, or “tie”, as it is often referred to. If it is too short, the frenulum will tightly hold the tongue to the floor of the mouth, reducing the tongue’s reach, flexibility, and mobility.

The Effects Of Tongue-Tie

One of the traits of tongue-tie is that it affects individuals in different ways. Primally first diagnosed in children, one of the fears might be its impact on their ability to speak. Whilst that can happen, it is also true that many children with tongue-tie develop their language and speech skills without hindrance.

What is often more of a problem is how tongue-tie can affect babies and extremely young children. Tongue-tie can hinder a baby’s ability to breastfeed or feed on a bottle. As for children and even adults, tongue-tie can adversely affect their ability to chew and swallow and clearing the mouth of food residue with their tongue, as is customary, is difficult for them.

How Tongue-Tie Is Diagnosed

A speech pathologist will be one of several medical professionals who may be included in diagnosing tongue-tie, especially in babies and children. Others include paediatricians, orthodontists, ear, nose and throat specialists, dental hygienists, and community nurses, to name but a few.

The specific symptoms and difficulties a patient has will determine which medical specialists are required. Speech pathologists will be part of the team assessing how speech is affected and how tongue-tie impacts their swallowing and feeding. Specifically, this will involve assessing:

  • A baby’s or infant’s ability to feed, either from their mother’s breast or a bottle
  • For children on solid foods and adults, their ability to chew and swallow, and the tongue’s ability to clear food residue from within the mouth
  • Speech development of children and any impact on the speech of both children and adult

Tongue-Tie Surgery

Before surgery is considered for babies, children or adults, a speech pathologist will be involved in several consultations and treatments. For children and adults, where speech is the primary consideration, a speech pathologist will recommend and administer a range of therapies to help their patients gain the desired speech level before recommending surgery.

One of the main reasons for that is surgery for a tongue-tie carries no guarantee that it will completely reverse any speech difficulties a tongue-tie patient has. Even if surgery is performed, the patient will require ongoing support to address any remaining speech issues, as they are not immediately eradicated.

With babies, where the main concern is how tongue-tie affects their feeding ability, there is much for a speech pathologist and other medical professionals to consider. They will assess a baby’s latching and posture whilst feeding, which will involve a lactation consultant making recommendations. Again, post-surgery observation and support for babies and their parents are crucial to normalising the baby’s feeding.