Does “tongue-tie” affect speech development?

Does “tongue-tie” affect speech development?

Being “tongue-tied” has very little – if any – relationship to speech or expressive language development.

images-2Let’s go over some definitions first. “Tongue-tie” is the common lingo for “ankyloglossia,” which is caused by a large-looking “lingual frenulum.”A lingual frenulum is that little bit of skin that looks like it connects the bottom of your tongue to the floor of your mouth. This bit of anatomy serves no function at all after we are born. We have a large number of tongue muscles that interconnect to form all that you see when you open your mouth and lift your tongue up (and there are many other muscles you don’t see). (Diagram is courtesy of Healthwise)

th sound imageAnkyloglossia can limit the movement of the tongue, especially the tongue tip. However, there is no research evidence that confidently links this to speech or language delays. The movements we require to make speech sounds are very different in degree and strength than doing things like sticking the tongue out or other intentional non-speech movements. In Canadian English, the furthest we move our tongues out is when we make “th” sounds. Try it: say the words “this” or “thing.” You hardly move your tongue forward, compared to when you stick your tongue out. And when you do that, remember that the floor of your mouth is mobile, too (because it isn’t much of a floor…it’s still a part of your tongue muscles that connect your tongue to the inside of your jaw). The American Speech & Hearing Association has a nice piece about this topic (the article is from 2005, but it’s not as if our bodies have evolved THAT much in 11 years!).

If your child has a speech delay, it is not caused by his or her “tongue-tie,” so be cautious when someone recommends surgery to snip it for this reason, as this approach to treating speech problems is quite old-school. Your doctor may recommend it if your child is having feeding or swallowing problems. But even in this case, there is limited evidence that “tongue-tie” causes these problems. (At this time, the Canadian Pediatric Society’s official stance is that surgery is NOT recommended for infants with breast-feeding problems or for children with speech delays.)

As always, if you have a concern about speech or language delay, see a Speech-Language Pathologist as soon as possible.


Leave comment

Ontario Speech & Language Services