My son, Jackson, was eight years old when I took him to his semi-annual dental checkup. I thought it was going to be just another routine cleaning. And then, my dentist said to me, "I think you need to take him to an orthodontist."
I was shocked, to say the least. Taking my eight-year-old to an orthodontist was the farthest thing from my mind. But, you see, he had lost his top two front teeth and the new ones were coming in far apart. It was clear that this huge gap in the middle of his sweet face wasn't "normal". Something was definitely wrong.
I was so fortunate that our orthodontist noticed a problem right away. On our first appointment, he immediately started asking me questions about Jackson's history as an infant and toddler. Did he have trouble nursing or taking a bottle? Did he have sleep issues? Does he suck his thumb or use a pacifier?
I didn't understand all these questions at first. I wondered what they had to do with his gapped tooth smile.
We were immediately referred to Myofunctional Therapy where Jackson was diagnosed with moderate Ankyloglossia (tongue-tie) and a severe upper lip-tie. From there, we enrolled in twelve-months of Myofunctional Therapy and began a long journey towards lifelong health, better wellness, and more knowledge about tongue and lip-ties than I ever knew possible!
Since we've started this journey I've shared our story with dozens of families, friends, and co-workers. We've had several people close to us seek out Myofunctional Therapy and oral procedures because of our story, including my husband, who is now enrolled in the same year-long program that Jackson was. It's my hope that by sharing this knowledge with you, that it might help you or someone you love.
What are oral ties?
Oral ties are caused by thick, abnormal tissue in the mouth. A tongue-tie happens when the frenulum, that is the piece of tissue that connects your tongue to the bottom of your mouth, is thicker or shorter than normal. A lip-tie can happen on both the top or the bottom lip and is essentially the same thing as a tongue-tie. The frenulum that connects your lip to your gums can be shorter or thicker than normal. Both tongue- and lip-ties cause mobility issues and can contribute to a wide variety of health problems such as breathing issues, sleep problems, and neck or back pain.
For the first eight years of my son's life, not a single expert was able to diagnose his ties. He had seen multiple dentists, oral hygienists, doctors, and pediatricians over the years, and never once was it mentioned to me until his permanent teeth started coming in. My husband, who is in his late-30's, has also never been diagnosed. He, like Jackson, has since been treated for both a tongue and upper lip-tie. In some cases, oral ties are hereditary and can be passed on through the family line.
What I've learned is that most medical experts are not properly trained in this department. We had numerous dentists and oral hygienists over the years tell us that there was absolutely no way there were any oral ties in either Jackson's or my husband's mouth.
If you suspect a tie, the only way to find out the truth, in my honest opinion, is to seek out a professional who has had years of training specifically related to oral ties and is considered an expert. Ties cannot be diagnosed by appearance alone. For example, if your practitioner asks you to simply open your mouth and stick out your tongue, you should run for the hills. This is a clear sign that they do not have the proper training.
The best way to diagnose a tie is to see an expert who can provide measurements and a proper functional assessment. Most medical doctors and dentists don't have the proper training to evaluate ties, which is why they often go undiagnosed.
It's becoming more common for infants who have severe oral ties to be diagnosed during the first few months after birth. Because one of the first signs that something is wrong is breast-feeding issues, troubles latching, or problems with bottle feeding. I was fortunate to nurse Jackson for more than a year, and we never had any issues in that department, which is one reason why his ties went undiagnosed.
As I look back over his first eight years and combine it with my newfound knowledge, I realize there were many red flags. For starters, Jackson was a terrible sleeper. Falling asleep was easy, but he would never, and I mean NEVER make it past the 45-minute mark. Even at nighttime. Like clockwork, he'd start crying for us every 45-minutes because his body was failing to shift properly into a new sleep cycle, which I now believe was a result of improper breathing caused by his ties. As he got older, he also began having extreme night terrors. He'd scream unconsolably and flail his body all over his bed and room for no reason at all.
He also had a severe gag reflex. Anytime a pacifier, bottle, or teething toy went into his mouth, he'd immediately start gagging. Because of this he also struggled to transition into eating solid foods and became a very picky eater. We often felt like he puked way more than normal as a young child, many times, throwing up even when he wasn't sick.
Probably one of the most obvious signs for me was that Jackson was a "tongue sucker." Some kids suck their finger or a pacifier, but, when Jackson was trying to self-soothe or relax, his tongue would hang loosely out of his mouth, which is not a normal resting place for the tongue. Many times, he'd wrap his lips around his tongue and make sucking motions. I've never seen a child do that!
Now, as for my husband goes, his most significant symptom was life-long migraines and chronic neck and shoulder pain. He has had migraines since he was in middle school and has seen several doctors and chiropractors who've never been able to help him. Like Jackson, I'm told he was a tongue-sucker as a baby and has gag reflex that makes it difficult to swallow pills and eat certain textures. But, I'm happy to say that since his diagnosis, his migraines have improved significantly, are less frequenct, and are less severe. We are very hopeful that the migraines will eventually be eliminated all together.
As you can see, oral ties are unique, and they don't always present the same or common symptoms for everyone.
Oral ties are one of the main factors that contribute to a wide variety of complex symptoms. One of the main signs is incorrect skeletal, jaw, and teeth development, which leads to TMJ (jaw joint) pain, chronic neck and shoulder tension, headaches, and migraines.
Oral ties affect proper growth of the skull, jaw, and vertebral bones. Those with oral ties usually have a narrow, V-shaped palate which contributes to crooked teeth, poorly defined cheekbones, a narrow face, a setback jaw, and/or a crooked nose.
Nasal breathing is fundamental to proper jaw and teeth development. Oral ties have been shown to create more narrow airways, both in the nose and the throat. For this reason, people with ties will often be chronic snorers, gasp during sleep, and mouth breath.
Underdeveloped airways will lead to a term called "sleep disordered breathing" which is a narrowing or obstruction of the airways during sleep. This can contribute to a wide number of symptoms:
Difficulty in school
Clenching / grinding your teeth
Incorrect Tongue & Lip Position
The natural resting place of the tongue in a well-developed mouth will rest upwards against the palate. The tip of your tongue should rest right behind the front of your top teeth. The middle part of your tongue should be gently pressed upwards to the upper palate and the back of the throat. In addition, the lips should be gently closed together when resting.
Incorrect tongue position was one of the first signs we noticed with Jackson as a toddler. When sitting or resting, we'd observe that his mouth would gape open slightly so that the tip of his tongue could rest outside of his mouth. When the tongue and lips don't rest in their proper position it's often because the tongue is tied in a low and forward position.
Proper tongue and lip posture activates the muscles that connect to the jaw, skull, spine, and throat, and is a primary influencer of proper growth and development.
Ties Effect the Whole Body
Ties are a sign of tight fascia - all over the body, not just in the mouth. Oral ties contribute to body tension, especially in the neck and shoulders. Tight oral fascia pulls the posture of your head forward which affects your posture. This leads to pain and tension.
I have witnessed two frenectomy's now - once with my son, and once with my husband. When they released the lip-tie on my son, his entire body basically collapsed. It was like a very tight rubber band that had once connected his head to his feet had suddenly been clipped. His feet and legs immediately relaxed as if all the tension was immediately released from his body. And I watched it happen again to his body when they released his tongue. During my husband's tongue-tie release, I witnessed what looked like a physical wave of energy start at his head and ripple all the way down to his toes as they started to release the deepest layers of his tongue fascia.
The doctor who performed their procedures even noticed the full body releases and later told me it was quite common. People with ties don't even realize that their entire body and fascia system is too tight because they've never experienced what "normal" feels like. After a frenectomy, patients will often notice immediate changes to their body such as being able to move their neck more freely, changes in speech, or an ease of tension. Three days after my husbands release, his chiropractor was surprised to find that he had more neck mobility than ever before!
Tight oral fascia can also lead to digestive problems such as heartburn, irritable bowels, acid reflux, gassiness, or bloating. It's because a tight tongue often leads to improper swallowing and difficulty chewing. Improperly chewed food or swallowing too much air can lead to an increase of these symptoms.
A frenectomy is an oral procedure that can be done to help release or clip the tight tissues that connect the lip and tongue. But these procedures don't always eliminate the symptoms of people with ties, especially in adults and older children who've already developed years of bad habits.
Before and after a release, I recommend you establish a team that can help you to not only learn proper functions such as breathing and swallowing but can assist to ensure your procedure provides lasting results. Search out bodywork experts, Craniosacral Fascial Therapy, chiropractors, and Myofunctional therapists to assist with healing and alignment.
Children and adults can get a release and still have all the same issues afterwards. It's because the tight fascia and oral function wasn't addressed and just the sign of the tight fascia was clipped. An expert is needed to follow up on your procedure to help ensure the release works and heals properly. Specific exercises are given after a frenectomy to ensure that the fascia doesn't reattach and grow back together again.
When my orthodontist first saw Jackson, he told me that braces were only going to be a band-aid for a much bigger problem. He said he was confident he could close the large gap in Jackson's smile with braces, but that if we didn't address the root cause of the issue, his teeth position would relapse. So, we decided to hold off on orthodontics until we addressed all of the root causes that contributed to the large gap in the first place. It took us almost two years to get there, but I'm so glad that we did it, because I know in the long term, he's going to be much better off.
Both my husband and son did six months of myofunctional therapy, craniosacral work, and chiropractic work prior to their release. And, then they continued to work closely with their therapist for six months after their frenectomies. Our therapist taught the boys daily exercises and techniques that addressed proper breathing, tongue and lip placement, and correct chewing and swallowing habits. She also tracked their progress with photos, measurements, and x-rays.
The boys were also given an oral device to help strengthen their lip and facial movements. These devices can help to align teeth and correct poor oral habits without braces. Our practitioner used the Myobrace on both boys. I've also seen really good research and reviews on the Myo Munchee.
The guys still wear their Myobraces at night to ensure that the fascia doesn't reattach or regrow. They both feel like they breathe and sleep better with their devices in their mouths at night. I've noticed that they both have improved sleep, and their handsome faces are becoming more defined. They have jawlines now! And the dark circles under their eyes have disappeared.
I'm not going to lie to you - this journey has required a lot of time, money, and energy, but it has been incredibly rewarding. I'm proud of both of our boys for showing such dedication to improving their health and addressing the root cause of so many of their issues. I hope they inspire you or someone you love to get the help and healing that you deserve.