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Understanding Tongue and Lip Ties: A Guide for Parents from a Speech Language Pathologist

Tongue and lip ties are often a question I encounter from concerned parents. These conditions can have significant impacts on both feeding and speech development in children. So, first off, what are they?

What are Tongue and Lip Ties?

Tongue ties (otherwise known as ankyloglossia) and lip ties are conditions present at birth that restrict the movement of the tongue or the upper lip due to an unusually tight or thick band of tissue, which is called a frenulum. Tongue tie typically affects the movement of the tongue, while lip tie affects the upper lip's movement.

Now let’s chat about the effect of tongue and lip ties on speech and feeding, as well as what you can do if you suspect your child may be impacted.

Talk Time Speech and Language Therapy | Color picture of baby sticking out heart-shaped tongue | Contact for more information on lip and tongue ties

The Impact of Tongue and Lip Ties on Feeding

Feeding difficulties are another common concern associated with tongue ties. The tongue plays a vital role in breastfeeding, as it needs to extend over the lower gum line to effectively latch onto the breast. A tongue tie can interfere with this process, making it challenging for the baby to latch properly. This can lead to breastfeeding problems such as poor latch, inadequate milk transfer, and nipple pain for the mother. Bottle feeding may also be affected, as the restricted tongue movement can impact sucking and swallowing patterns, causing feeding to be inefficient or uncomfortable for the infant.

Similar to tongue ties, lip ties can affect feeding in infants. Adequate lip movement allows infants to form a proper seal around the breast or bottle nipple during feeding. A tight lip tie may prevent the baby from achieving a good latch, leading to difficulties with breastfeeding, poor milk transfer, and potential nipple trauma for the mother. In bottle-fed babies, lip tie can also interfere with creating a secure seal around the bottle nipple, resulting in inefficient sucking and swallowing.

The Impact of Tongue and Lip Ties on Speech

Tongue tie can negatively impact speech development in children. The tongue plays a crucial role in forming certain speech sounds, such as "t," "d," "l," “s”, and “z”, and "r." When a child has a tongue tie, they may struggle to produce these sounds correctly, leading to speech delays or articulation disorders. While some children with tongue ties learn to compensate and are able to produce most sounds correctly, the child can continue to experience some adverse impacts without the underlying issue being addressed (like feeding!). Additionally, tongue ties can affect tongue movements necessary for clear speech production, causing issues with clarity and resonance, and how well others can understand the individual.

While less commonly discussed, lip ties can also influence speech development. The upper lip's mobility is essential for producing certain sounds, such as "p," "b," "m," and "w." When a child has a lip tie, the restricted movement of the upper lip can interfere with the correct articulation of these sounds, leading to speech sound errors or delays. Additionally, lip tie may affect lip closure, which is necessary for producing sounds like "p" and "b" accurately.

What Can Parents Do?

If you suspect that your child may have a tongue or lip tie, it's essential to consult with a healthcare professional, such as a speech-language pathologist, pediatrician, or lactation consultant, for an evaluation. They can assess your child's oral structures and function to determine if a tie is present and if it's causing any difficulties with feeding or speech. Speech-language pathologist’s specialize in identifying tongue and lip ties, and in guiding you through treatment options. They know that optimal child development shouldn’t only be based on overall weight gain and can help identify the cause of your concerns for your child.

Treatment options for tongue and lip ties may include a simple procedure where the tight band of tissue is clipped or lasered to release the restriction. This procedure is typically quick, safe, and can often be performed in a healthcare provider's office. Another treatment option includes exercises to work on stretching the ties to support functional use of the tongue and lip. In addition to either of these treatment options, many children require therapy to help remediate their speech and feeding challenges.

If you have concerns about your child’s speech and feeding development, or if you are concerned your child may have a tongue or lip tie, reach out to us at Talk Time Speech and Language Therapy. We can help you understand and identify the signs, as well as provide therapy to help your child. Contact us today!

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