Learning to talk is a natural process for children. They pick up words, meanings, and sounds, but some children have trouble forming different sounds correctly, leading to impairments in speech which can be difficult to correct later in life. A lot of speech trouble is caused by incorrect muscle memory or psychological problems, but they also be cause by a tight or incorrectly positioned lingual frenulum.
What is the lingual frenulum?
Everybody has a lingual frenulum. It is the tissue that holds your tongue in place in your mouth. It is flexible enough to allow you to stick your tongue out or lift it up, while still tying it firmly to the bottom of the oral cavity. When the lingual frenulum is too tight, it prevents children from moving their tongue enough to form vowel sounds and consonants properly; some physicians will refer to this problem as a "tongue-tie".
How can I tell if my child has this problem?
Fortunately, most pediatric dentists, laser surgeons or speech therapists can easily diagnose a lingual frenulum. You should ask for an exam if your child:
How can this trouble be resolved?
Speech difficulties, along with accompanying eating problems and dental complications, can be resolved by a simple laser surgery that releases the frenulum, allowing the tongue more freedom of movement in the mouth. The surgery itself is very simple. Your child may not even need to be put under anesthesia. The tongue area is numbed, and the laser cuts into the restrictive tissue. The precision of the laser allows for correct sculpting and faster healing, as the wound is not left open and bleeding. You will need to do tongue stretches with your child for a couple of weeks after the surgery to prevent the frenulum from cleaving back together.
However, speech will not improve overnight. Your child should work with a speech therapist to retrain the muscles in the mouth, because your child will be used to compensating for the lack of movement in their tongue and will not know how to form words correctly at first, even with this sudden lingual freedom. Missing teeth (common during childhood) can also affect new tongue movement, so children should practice tongue placement and movement directly after the surgery and continue until speech has improved.
If you are concerned that your child's speech development might be hindered by a tongue tie, you can contact an experienced doctor for a full examination and opt for this simple, but life-changing procedure. If your child already has an ear, nose and throat doctor that offers laser surgery, they may be able to offer this service or put you in contact with other experienced professionals.
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