Tongue Twister

After a personal experience with her infant son’s tongue-tie, a local dentist digs deeper into the topic.

Even during the chaotic bliss that I experienced while welcoming my son into the world, I noticed it almost immediately.

tongue tiedWith his mouth wide open and testing out those vocal chords for the very first time, my little Ender was giving me a perfect view of his tethered lingual frenulum.

In other words, he was tongue tied.

That little flap of tissue under his tongue was keeping it bound to the floor of his mouth, and as a board certified pediatric dentist, I knew all too well what that meant.

Tongue tie can lead to difficulties with breastfeeding since it prevents the child from achieving an ideal latch. This can make breastfeeding very challenging and painful, as I experienced firsthand. In some cases, it can even make it impossible, though many small children manage to breastfeed just fine despite the tongue tie.

The next issue that may arise is challenges with speech, because when your tongue cannot move freely in your mouth, there are some words that become difficult to pronounce.

And then there is oral “cleansability.” Basically, when the tongue is tied down, the range of motion is compromised, preventing the tongue’s ability to clean around the teeth. This is an unconscious habit for most people, but this ability goes a long way towards keeping your teeth, especially those back molars, free from debris throughout the day.

Even though my son and I were already starting to work through the difficulty of breastfeeding, my husband and I decided to have his lingual frenulum clipped at five days old. We did this in the traditional way with an ear, nose and throat specialist using scissors. I felt immediate relief and improved latch right away.

lip tie before and afterAs you can imagine, this experience made me particularly passionate on this issue, so I dug a little deeper. I learned that my own son’s procedure, while mostly successful, was incomplete and would likely need to be touched up in the future. That’s because scissors or a scalpel is truly not the best tool for this procedure. The healing process is slow with an increased chance of reattachment and infection when compared to performing this procedure with a soft tissue laser.

I wound up purchasing a soft tissue laser, believing that this is the best possible treatment for patient families in my dental practice. The laser allows for a greatly improved surgical outcome with very little chance of recurrence, faster healing, and little or no post-operative bleeding. For two years, I have been successfully treating infants and even newborns without general anesthesia. I also redid the procedure on my own son to improve his tongue range of motion with great success.

I can’t tell you how many moms I see with a tongue-tied two-year-old and once we start talking about it she mentions that she had trouble initially with breast-feeding. Or worse, mothers have told me that they were unable to breastfeed at all. Many say none of their health care providers had ever mentioned the tongue-tie as a potential cause for the problem. The thought that some mothers miss out on the joy of nursing their babies just breaks my heart, so I have made it my personal mission to spread the word on this issue.

I love meeting mothers with their infant babies so we can discuss a frenectomy with the soft tissue laser to aid in a stronger latch during breast feeding, unencumbered speech development, and clean little teeth when they come in!

Dr. Michelle Stafford
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Dr. Michelle Stafford

Dr. Michelle Stafford founded World of Smiles Pediatric Dentistry in August 2008. After graduating from University of the Pacific: Arthur Dugoni School of Dentistry, she chose the pediatric dental specialty because she believes that children who begin with positive dental experiences will be set up for great oral health throughout their lives. She lives in Portland with her husband and two boys.
Dr. Michelle Stafford
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