Your Child’s Tongue Tie Could Affect Them More Than You Know

Rodney Baier, DDS
September 18, 2023

The jaws grow and develop as a result of even pressure from the lips, cheeks and tongue and therefore any disruption in this equilibrium can result in not only facial and skeletal changes, but also changes in airway health. Often times children suffering from nasal obstructions such as asthma, allergies, deviated septum, a tethered tongue, and/or large tonsils are affected as they are forced to breathe through their mouths. This can eventually lead to an open bite, a long lower face, and an underdeveloped upper jaw.

Your infant’s airways are divided into three parts: the nasopharynx (the portion of the airway associated with the nose), the oropharynx (the portion of the airway associated with the mouth and throat), and the hypopharynx (the pharyngeal airway space below the mouth). Babies who regularly breath through their mouth will not fully develop their nasal passages.

If abnormal growth patterns in the jaws are not recognized and treated early on, it may lead to the need for surgical correction. However, simply learning what to look out for in your growing child can help catch the problem early on so that their growth trajectory may be altered to make great positive strides.

Signs that demonstrate Nasal obstruction

  • Dry and chapped lips
  • Opened-mouth posture while the child is sitting still
  • Chronic runny nose and/or allergies
  • History of chronic ear infections
  • Dental crossbite
  • Dental crowding and/or delayed eruption of adult teeth
  • Red or swollen upper gums
  • Always eats with mouth opened! – Anterior open bite (front teeth do not overlap)
  • History of difficulty breastfeeding due to tongue tie
  • A dental crossbite

How are breastfeeding & tongue tied children linked to airway and skeletal/facial growth and development?

  • When a tongue is restricted, the child can not properly latch, swallow, digest, and breath properly. This means that a tethered tongue can be linked to poor weight gain, reflux, and inadequate feedings.
  • Proper breastfeeding forces an infant to breathe through his or her nose, helping form and develop the nasal passages. The tongue and lower jaw muscles work together during breastfeeding and form the pressure which encourages jaw growth.
  • In older children, a tongue tie may cause them to be more likely to gag because the tongue is held in a more backward position and the upper jaw may have not developed entirely. With a smaller distance between the back of the tongue and the soft palate, the gag reflex is more likely to become triggered.
  • One cannot process and move food through his or her mouth efficiently with a restricted tongue which means food may get caught in the mouth and cause gagging. Food can also get stuck behind upper teeth and the child will not be able to move his or her tongue to clear the food resulting in the child learning to favor and avoid certain foods.

Problems associated with the Tethered Tongue

Overall, restricted movement from being tongue tied can affect skeletal growth, speech & pronunciation, as well as airway development.

  • Restricted movements means that the tongue cannot rise to the palate in order to put pressure on the upper jaw. This can result in narrow upper jaws and/or lower jaws.
  • If the upper jaw is narrow and small and/or if the lower jaw is small or set back, the tongue will fill the airway space in the back of the throat (oropharynx) and block the airway.
  • Tethered tongues are often seen
  • in correlation with dental and skeletal open bites. When the child is trying to open his or her airway but the skeletal structures are blocking the airway, then one is forced to bring his or her tongue forward in order to breathe better. This consistent movement will result in an open bite.
  • Speech and pronunciation are affected by a tethered tongue. Children with tongue ties may have difficulty with l, r, t, d, n, th, sh, and z sounds.

What should you do?

Bring your child in for an exam. We will help determine the causes of the problem and direct you to the proper resources for your next steps.

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