Is meal time a chore because you have a picky eater?
If your child only eats a handful of foods, turns their nose up at everything and says absolutely no way to vegetables, you’re probably already over making special meals, limiting your offerings and fighting over food.
But, what if it’s not just about preference and pickiness? What if it’s something physical?
What if it’s a tongue-tie?
What Is a Tongue-Tie?
A tongue-tie, or lingual frenulum, is a piece of tissue that connects the base of the tongue to the mouth. Most of the time, these tissues separate before birth, allowing a full range of motion for the tongue.
But in some babies and children the tissue remains connected, tethering the tongue to the floor of the mouth.
The tongue includes muscles that help us talk, chew and swallow. It also helps us taste our food. When the tongue is tied, these muscles do not work properly. This causes problems eating, speaking and swallowing.
Picky Eaters and Tongue-Ties
Does your child turn their nose up when you introduce new foods or snacks? Children with tongue-ties frequently avoid new foods and stick with what is easy for them to chew and swallow.
This can be a frustrating situation. Parents often wonder why their child doesn’t want to try new foods and struggle with picky eating. Children may experience malnutrition, struggle to reach a healthy weight and are smaller than their peers.
Infants with tongue-ties have breastfeeding issues, and nursing mothers often also experience frustration.
Tongue-ties can also cause poor oral function and:
- Difficulty chewing
- Gagging, choking or vomiting foods
- Swallowing difficulties
- Speech issues or delays
- Food texture issues
- Poor oral hygiene
- Bad breath
- Painful gums
- Teeth grinding
- Mouth sores
- Ear infections
- Weight loss
- Increased risk for SIDS
How Does a Tongue-Tie Cause Problems?
If the tongue is pulled tight against the floor of the mouth, it can interfere with breathing and feeding. When the tongue is tightly held down, it makes it difficult for the baby to breathe through their nose. In addition, when the tongue is pulled back and pressed into the throat, it can block the airway.
This can contribute to the development of the sleep breathing disorder known as obstructive sleep apnea, or OSA. OSA is a condition in which a blockage occurs in the upper airway that prevents the flow of air to the lungs during sleep. In the case of kids with tongue-ties, the tongue causes the obstruction.
Other complications of OSA include:
- Developmental delays
- Learning disabilities
- Cardiac conditions
Tongue-Ties and Jaw Problems
Early detection of a tongue-tie is important to minimalize the negative effects on the growth of the jaw. When the tongue is restricted, jaw growth and development are also restricted and the lower jaw does not reach its full potential.
The impact of this situation is:
- Smaller jaws
- Underdeveloped teeth
- Tooth crowding
- Jaws that don’t grow together
- Flat face
- Weak chin
- Airway issues
How Are Tongue-Ties Treated?
Treatment depends on the severity of the problem. Mild cases of tongue-tie can usually be treated by simply cutting the ligament that attaches the tongue to the floor of the mouth. However, if the ligament is too short, surgery is needed. Surgery involves releasing the tongue from the mouth and reattaching it to the floor of the soft palate.
Surgery is often done with a laser, which is less painful and has a shorter recovery period than traditional methods.
Myofunctional Therapy After Tongue-Ties
After a tongue-tie is corrected, myofunctional therapy should begin. Myofunctional therapy helps children develop proper swallowing patterns and improves speech. This therapy includes exercises designed to help the muscles of the tongue relax and move freely. The goal is to improve the coordination between the tongue and other muscles involved in eating and speaking.
Myofunctional Therapy for Adults
Children are not the only ones affected by tongue-ties. Many adults have tongue-ties that weren’t treated when they were children, and they have the same food aversions as adults that they did as kids. An adult can be a picky eater too!
Before you dismiss a picky eater, we recommend coming in for an exam. If you do have a tongue-tie, we can help you through treatment and then develop a myofunctional therapy plan to help retrain your tongue and facial muscles.
Questions? Call us. We’d love to talk to you.