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Does being tongue-tied affect speech?
Q: I have noticed, since my 3½-year-old was born, that he has a short tongue. Recently the dentist told us that our son is tongue-tied. He often talks like a baby; could his tongue be the problem, or something else? In addition to being tongue-tied, he is the middle child and tends to always be the trouble-maker; his brothers are 5 and 2.
Jody Virginia Beach
A: Jody, be sure to have your son checked by his doctor to confirm whether he is “tongue-tied.” Approximately 1-2% of children are born with this condition, also known as “ankyloglossia.” This means that your son’s frenulum—the tissue that secures the underside of his tongue to the floor of the mouth—is tighter than usual. As a result, your son’s tongue may be shorter and may not move as well, which might interfere with his speech.

Ask your doctor whether surgery to clip your son’s frenulum would be helpful. Currently, experts recommend having the frenulum clipped if children are experiencing problems such as:
  • For newborns—having difficulty sucking, not getting enough milk and failing to grow properly. This is usually apparent in the newborn period.

  • For toddlers—having problems with speech, which usually apparent by 2 to years of age.
By age 3½, most children can speak in three-four-word sentences and have fairly clear speech that adults other than their parents can understand. If your son speaks like a baby, is this getting in the way of his communication and relationships with his brothers, friends, and adults? Might his speech problems be causing him to be frustrated and act out? Talk with your doctor or call your local school district to have your son’s speech evaluated—his speech may be delayed because he’s tongue-tied, or it may be due to other factors such as hearing or developmental problems. They will be able to tell you whether surgery or speech therapy might be helpful. This is the time to get help for your son so he’ll be ready for kindergarten.
Karen Sokal-Gutierrez M.D., M.P.H. Pediatrician