Tongue-Tie in Adults (And Kids) And How to Detect the Signs

An exam room in a dental office shows a chair, a screen, equipment, a globe, and a scene of a reading nook painted on a wall. Although it is a condition present at birth, tongue-tie can affect people of all ages depending on when it is diagnosed and treated. Approximately 3.5% to 5% of babies are born with this condition that restricts tongue movement. Tongue-tie in adults often persists in mild cases. Babies with more severe cases are more likely to be diagnosed by a pediatric dentist.

What is Tongue-Tie?

Tongue-tie, also known as ankyloglossia, is a condition that restricts movement of the tongue. It involves the lingual frenulum, the band of tissue that anchors the tongue to the mouth’s floor. It should secure only the base of the tongue.

Tongue-tie occurs when the lingual frenulum anchors the tongue too firmly and extensively. This restricts the tongue’s movement and can potentially cause discomfort or more serious complications.

The tongue should separate adequately from the floor of the mouth as a baby develops in the womb. This leaves a thin band of tissue, the lingual frenulum, connecting the two. As a baby grows, the tissue thins out even more, allowing for appropriate movement of the tongue.

Some babies are born without the proper detachment. Some develop and grow without the normal thinning of the tissue. Why this happens in certain people is not well understood, but there might be genetic factors involved. Tongue-tie occurs more often in boys.

Signs of Tongue-Tie in Adults and Children

Tongue-tie is a condition with which you’re born, but it can resolve to some degree as babies develop. If it persists into childhood and adulthood, it can cause characteristic symptoms.

A dentist examines a patient’s mouth as they lie in a dental exam chair and a technician sits to the side with a keyboard.

In most adults, the lingual frenulum is thin and runs along the middle and toward the back of the tongue. If you have tongue-tie, the tissue might be shorter or thicker and feel tight. It might connect the tip of the tongue to the floor of the mouth, but it is unlikely you would have made it to adulthood without correcting this particular issue due to the severe restriction it causes.

In some cases, tongue-tie is mild enough that no one identifies it until you reach adolescence or adulthood. Some of the signs of adult tongue-tie include difficulty speaking, eating, drinking, or breathing. Additionally, you might experience these issues:

  • Inability to stick the tongue out past the front lower teeth
  • A heart-shaped tongue when extended
  • Difficulty lifting the tongue up to touch the upper teeth
  • Difficulty moving the tongue side to side

How to Fix Tongue-Tie in Adults

Surgery to correct tongue-tie is simple and low-risk. Dentists usually offer the procedure, which involves a quick snip of the lingual frenulum. This releases the tongue and allows for more movement.

In some cases, when the tissue is particularly thick, patients require a more involved surgery under general anesthesia with stitches and a risk of scarring.

What Happens if You Don’t Treat Tongue-Tie

Although some adults live with this condition for years, there are important reasons to correct tongue-tie. It’s never too late to treat it and to reap the benefits. Fixing tongue-tie relieves the symptoms, such as restricted movement and difficulty speaking or eating.

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Additionally, treatment can reduce the risk of complications of living with tongue-tie over time. These include poor dental health because of the difficulty of swallowing completely or brushing the teeth adequately. Other potential complications include:

  • Tongue thrust and alignment issues
  • Temporomandibular joint conditions with associated pain
  • Sleep apnea
  • Speech impediments
  • Poor quality of life

Signs of Tongue-Tie in Babies and Potential Complications

It’s best to catch and manage tongue-tie in babies, so parents should be aware of the signs. Regular dental care also helps find this condition before it causes too many problems. Signs of tongue-tie in babies include:

  • Difficulty latching during breastfeeding or breastfeeding for long periods
  • Clicking noises when feeding
  • Constant hunger and trouble gaining weight
  • Pain for the mother during breastfeeding

Children experience similar symptoms to adults when tongue-tie isn’t caught in infancy. They might have speech and swallowing difficulties and issues moving their tongue.

If you have signs of tongue-tie, it’s not too late to do something about it. The experienced dentists in our adult practice can diagnose and treat the problem to improve your quality of life. Contact us today to request an appointment.


    Newtown Dentistry

  • DATE

    November 23, 2022


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