I wrote previously about N being a tongue tied toddler, not knowing he had it until he was 2.5 years old, and then the faff and worry of whether it was affecting him. Luckily by the time we got him assessed by a speech and language therapist, his clarity of speech had improved, and all of his sounds were ahead of where they would expect. His speech is generally pretty clear now. Not perfect, but the sounds are all right. However, there’s always a couple of words he might say out of context where he’s still not fully clear..
Since we realised N had posterior tongue tie, I’ve had quite a few friends asking more about tongue tie. Either their children, or for friends where they thought problems with speech sounded similar. So I decided to pull together information about tongue tie symptoms and the options for fixing it. This is based on our experience and the questions we were asked, along with other resources which provide information.
It turns out that tongue tie is a lot more common than you might think, with 3% of babies affected. It’s madness when you think that it’s not always mentioned to new mums or in antenatal classes as something to check for during breast feeding problems.
What are the tongue tie symptoms?
Tongue tie babies can struggle to latch on for breast feeding, struggling to get enough breast in the mouth, and therefore not get as much milk. They might feed for a long time, or not put on enough weight. For us, we were told N was latching fine, but then he refused to suck. N wasn’t checked for tongue tie so we ended up moving to bottles.
Bottle feeding babies with tongue tie can also struggle to latch round bottle teats, although N didn’t find it a problem.
Obviously if feeding is an issue, then the tongue should be checked and eliminated as the cause as early as possible. The younger the baby, the easier the snipping is to release the tongue tie. So if you’re having problems breastfeeding speak to your midwife, breastfeeding counsellor or contact someone like La Leche League. In our area there seem to be extremely long wait times as there aren’t many midwives qualified to do the snipping, but if there are serious feeding issues then do push for checking.
My view, having wanted to breastfeed and then finding out 2 years too late that N was tongue tied, is that babies should be automatically checked while breast feeding is being established and while in hospital.
2, Excessive dribbling
Some babies get dribbly around teething, others dribble all the time, and excessive dribbling can be a symptom of tongue tie.
N dribbled from about 3 months old until 2 ½ years, when magically it stopped. This was also around the time when his speech really took off as well (multiple sentences and non-stop talking), so the stopping of dribbling may have had more to do with learning to control the tongue more, than as a symptom of tongue tie.
3, Speech clarity
Tongue tie can impact speech clarity because the tongue can’t move as freely around the mouth in the correct movements.
N had certain sounds that he wasn’t very clear on. To me it was fine as compared to his peers he was probably middle ground as he spoke a lot, and I could understand most of what he said (compared with others who were perfectly clear through to those who didn’t really talk at all). But his speech didn’t seem to be getting clearer over time.
Of course, as soon as we booked a doctor’s appointment to check for tongue tie, and get a referral, all of a sudden his speech came on brilliantly and so did a lot of the clarity. By 3 years old his speech was just as it should be, so luckily it’s not held him back.
By age 6, there’s some sounds like ‘th’ I have to remind him of because he says ‘f’ so he needs to get it right for learning to spell words correctly.
4, Dental issues
This tends to come as the child gets older, as obviously with a tongue tie, there’s limited space to get a toothbrush in to clean behind the teeth properly. I know of a couple of people who had their tongue tie snipped when they were teens or older, due to potential issues with dental health.
5, Forked tongue
Aside from the clarity of speech, and the excessive dribbling, the only other indication that N had tongue tie (which we didn’t know about until I read up about it after being diagnosed) was that he has a slightly forked tongue.
Not massively, but he couldn’t stick his tongue out far, and if he did, it was like a heart shape at the end instead of rounded. Now he’s talking a lot more, his tongue tie must have loosened a little as he can stick his tongue out further and the unusual shape isn’t as pronounced as it once was.
Tongue tie diagnosis
Obviously children don’t necessarily like doctors poking around in their mouths. The usual process was that the health visitor would check him first, then refer him to the doctors, but round our way, the health visitor didn’t have any spaces to see him before the doctor would be able to. So we went straight to the doctors. N didn’t really want to stick his tongue out but they could see that there was a slight tongue tie.
Other checks were to try and get him to lick his lips all the way round, in particular the top lip. N can’t do that. He also can’t move his tongue up and down. Instead, he can wiggle it sideways, which I find really odd as there’s no way I could do that.
How do they fix tongue tie?
Depending on your hospital, some midwives check newborns for tongue tie, and can snip straight away. Leaving it later can mean needing to do the snip procedure privately, because there’s only so many midwives trained to do it.
We were referred to a speech and language therapist to check N’s speech. At the age he was (2.5-3 years), to snip the tongue tie would mean general anaesthetic. So if his speech was fine, there wasn’t really any point to put him through an operation. In our area it was an 22 week wait for a speech therapist session. I’d definitely recommend checking the wait times as I decided to go to our nearest hospital, but afterwards found out that if we’d gone in Warwickshire, it was only about 3 weeks wait.
N was almost 3 by the time he went to the speech therapist. She watched him play, asked him questions and played with the toys as he did, trying to get him to show understanding, and check the sounds he should be saying by that age. She also checked the next sounds which tend to be harder, and usually checked at a later stage, which he was fine with anyway. So he got discharged as all of his speech was as it should have been by that age.
For us, it doesn’t seem to have impacted N apart from potentially the breast-feeding aspect. We’ll never know if picking up the tongue tie at birth might have got him breast feeding. But it’s good that he’s been checked out and for me to have the reassurance that his speech is fine.
For us we just continued talking lots, encouraging him to chat which would help strengthen his tongue and potentially stretch the tongue tie a bit. All communication is useful in child development, especially encouraging a child who might be struggling with speech. Practice does make perfect, whether it’s through speech therapy or just family conversation.
For children who are already talking and then have the tongue tie snipped, they may have speech therapy afterwards to relearn the correct sounds and improve the clarity of speech.
If you’re worried about having a tongue tied toddler or baby, then you can find out more about it from a variety of sources online.
Have any of your children been affected by tongue tie? What was your experience and how have you got past any problems you’ve had?