Speech delay can happen due to many possible reasons. Some are developmental; others are caused by accidents. There are also conditions that people are born with; in other words, it’s congenital.
There is one particular condition found in around 3.5% to 5% of all people that many wonder whether or not affects communication—tongue-tie. Can tongue tie cause speech delay? Let’s find out in this article.
What Is Tongue Tie?
Tongue-tie, otherwise known as ankyloglossia, is the condition wherein the person is born with a thick band of tissue right underneath the tongue connecting to the floor of the mouth. As you can imagine, this tissue restricts the tongue’s range of motion.
It occurs when the lingual frenulum, or the band of tissue, fails to detach to the bottom of the tongue prior to the child’s birth. There is still not enough data to determine what is the root cause of this, but some cases suggest it is mainly influenced by a person’s genetics.
While some cases of tongue-tie do not present themselves with any major or even minor problems, more severe cases may affect the child in a number of ways. One of these involves breastfeeding.
For an infant to successfully breastfeed, he must keep the tongue above the lower gum. However, because the tongue tie restricts this motion, the infant may resort to chewing instead of sucking.
Additionally, tongue-tie may also cause poor oral hygiene. That’s because the condition makes it difficult for them to sweep or remove food particles from the teeth. This, in turn, leads to tooth decay, gingivitis, and lots of other teeth-related concerns.
Finally, there’s one other important aspect in a child’s development that might be affected by tongue-tie, and that’s speech. We’ll talk more about that below.
Can Tongue Tie Cause Speech Delay?
By the time a child reaches six months old, he learns to babble and coo, which means that he is trying to learn a new language. However, all of this is yet to translate to intelligent or comprehensible speech.
It is only around 12 to 18 months old that they start mimicking the words they hear. By the 24th month, they start learning the basics of sentence construction. Therefore, it’s rather difficult to determine whether or not the condition can cause speech delay in a child when he is under 24 months old.
Additionally, some cases suggest that the condition becomes insignificant once the child reaches one to two years old. Nonetheless, the severity of the short frenulum differs from one child to another.
That said, there is always the possibility that tongue-tie causes speech delay in a child. This is especially evident when they’re trying to make sounds that involve movement or extension of the tongue.
Sounds that require the child to touch the roof of the mouth or words, which include the letters D, L, N, S, T, and Z, might be difficult for children with tongue-tie. Additionally, sounds that involve arching the tongue off the floor of the mouth, like the R sound, might also merit the same effect.
Therefore, a child with tongue-tie who also has difficulty sounding these letters might suffer from speech problems because of the condition.
It’s important to note that these are merely speech problems mainly related to articulation. If we are to talk about speech delay, in particular, tongue-tie may not directly cause speech delay. Instead, the indirect causation is what we have to be worried about.
Especially in cases where the child has difficulty with articulation, tongue-tie may cause him to lose confidence. And lower self-esteem may cause the child to lose the motivation to practice speech.
Should the Lingual Frenulum Be Cut?
Some parents choose to have their children undergo a surgical procedure called a frenectomy. This pertains to the cutting of the lingual frenulum to free the tongue and allow it to move freely. Even babies less than two weeks old undergo this procedure with the help of anesthesia.
However, we must understand that such a procedure is a rather stern course of action if we are merely to address speech difficulty. In some cases, even if the child does show problems with the articulation of the sounds listed earlier, the parents still insist they undergo the procedure.
If the main purpose of frenectomy is to allow the infant to breastfeed, then it might be the logical thing to do. However, if it is to address the speech difficulty, there might be more prudent alternatives available.
Some parents report that the clipping of the frenulum has helped their children improve their speech. However, there is not enough evidence to suggest that this is because of the frenectomy. After all, this might only be because of the child’s development.
What’s the Best Alternative?
If your child, in fact, suffers from a speech delay, and you have reason to believe it’s indirectly caused by the tongue-tie, perhaps a better alternative would be to consult a speech-language pathologist.
The speech-language pathologist may help you determine whether or not the tongue-tie is affecting the child’s sound articulation and/or causing speech distortion. If it is the case, only then should you think about scheduling a frenectomy.
Nonetheless, a speech-language pathologist or a speech therapist may also help your child gain the confidence necessary to avoid speech delay. This means you and your child get to avoid an unnecessary procedure to address the concern.
Additionally, you can practice your child’s speech at home and observe his development over the next couple of years. This will give you a better insight into the effects of the tongue-tie on your child’s speech and make a more informed decision.
On Tongue Tie and Speech Delay
All of these things bring us back to one essential question, can tongue tie cause speech delay? What we can say is that the underlying effects of tongue-tie, which aren’t always present, are what could possibly cause the delay.
Nonetheless, the best course of action to address speech delay and any concern relating to speech is (and always will be) to consult a speech therapist.