The answer is, yes, adults can have tongue ties, and yes, there is often a genetic factor when it comes to tongue ties. For many of our clients, their child’s experience ignites a lightbulb when it comes to their own experience as a child and adult.
A lifetime of experiences suddenly start making sense — chronic tension, sleep apnea, braces and palate expander, a bite of food that seemed small to others felt huge to them, migraines, speech therapy, and the list goes on and on. A tongue tie is often the one behind the many.
Client Sarah Duke said bringing her own daughter in for a tongue tie led her to asking questions for herself about chronic issues she had had for decades.
“I started thinking about it, and I thought, ’Wait, am I tongue tied?’” said Sarah. “When I connected the dots from my childhood, it started to make so much sense.”
Although we definitely recommend treating a tongue tie in infancy or childhood if possible, it’s not too late to get it treated as an adult. Craniosacral therapy is an important part of releasing the built-up tension from years of having tethered oral tissues. Having a craniosacral therapist experienced with tongue ties, along with a team of other professionals, can dramatically improve the outcome when treating a tongue tie.
We’ve had a number of clients with adult tongue ties come through our office for treatment, and we’re excited to share with you the amazing successes they’ve had getting treated, even as adults.Treating an adult tongue tie can have numerous and surprising benefits, as you’ll hear from our clients' stories.
“The tension in my shoulders just melted away. My whole body just untwisted, like it was unwinding. It was so amazing,” says Sarah. “So many things have changed. I can rest my tongue on the roof of my mouth. I can sleep and breathe through my nose. My range of motion in my head changed right away. I can touch my toes. I can relax in ways I never was able to before”
What Is a Tongue Tie? Can an Adult Have a Tongue Tie?
Also known as ankyloglossia, a tongue tie is a condition where the tissue below the tongue, the frenulum, is too tight. This can limit the movement of the tongue, making oral processes like feeding and speaking, more difficult.
Although we don’t know exactly what causes tongue tie, researchers think it has both genetic and epigenetic causes (meaning our DNA and how our DNA is affected by our environment). A tongue tie is considered a midline defect, similar to a cleft palate or deviated septum. This midline restriction can run the length of the body, not just in the tongue, creating an overly tight midline from head to toe.
Muscular tension can both be part of the root cause of a tongue tie and a symptom of it. Because the body is still trying to function normally, despite this tight midline tissue, it often creates compensations in order to do so. Those compensations can then create their own issues, often leading to pain or secondary conditions, like TMJ or migraines in adults.
What Are Some Clues That an Adult Might Have a Tongue Tie?
Because the body compensates for this tight tongue tissue, a tongue tie can manifest itself in various ways. Having experienced some of these issues, either currently or in the past, could be symptoms of a tongue tie:
Problems breastfeeding as a baby
Colicky or fussy baby
Reflux issues or indigestion
Breathing difficulties, such as asthma
Difficulty with braces or orthodontia - tendency to relapse quickly without constant treatment
TMJ or TMD
Headaches and migraines
Head and neck tension
Limited range of motion or flexibility
Difficulty sleeping or sleep apnea
Many dental cavities, often caused by limited airway and mouth breathing
Heart palpitations or anxiety
Not every person will present with all of these issues. Every body is unique, and some will manage to compensate well, despite tight tissues, and appear to function normally.
Although this might seem like a random and very wide ranging list of symptoms, they each tie in with each other. Without proper tongue function, breastfeeding is very difficult as a baby, and improper feeding often leads to reflux, colic and fussiness. This same lack of tongue function can make speech difficult and cause children to have difficulty with different textures, leading to picky eating. Not being able to chew your food properly without proper tongue funcion can cause chronic indigestion. When the tongue can’t rest on the roof of the mouth, the airway grows smaller, leading to breathing issues. It becomes difficult to breathe through the nose, so a person breathes through their mouth, which can lead to asthma and dental issues. The midline muscular tension manifests itself in various ways throughout the body, leading to disorders such as TMJ, migraines, tension, etc. These various symptoms demonstrate how the body operates holistically and each one part affects the function of the others.
Client Holly Cielinski says she knew she had a tongue tie from a young age, but a pediatrician told her it wasn’t a problem and that releasing it might cause a problem with her speech. She never considered having it revised until she took her son to a speech pathologist, Courtney Joesel of Building Blocks Therapy Services, for treatment for his tongue tie, and Courtney mentioned having her own tongue tie released recently.
“I didn’t even know it was an option,” said Holly. “After talking to Courtney, I started thinking about all the different things that might be connected to my tongue tie… chronic tension in my neck, sleep apnea, breathing issues, dental issues. I started to look into what it would take to have it released and do it the right way.”
Adult Tongue Tie from A Speech Therapist’s Perspective
When speech pathologist Courtney Joesel was diagnosed with sleep apnea at the age of 28, she knew something wasn’t right.
“I was in the best shape of my life. Everything I read about the risk factors and causes, it didn’t make sense,” she said.
Researching the effects of tonsils and adenoids on sleep apnea led to her signing up for her first myofunctional therapy course. As she signed up, she thought to herself, “I wouldn’t be surprised if I had a tongue tie.”
In fact, during that training, it was quickly identified that she did, indeed, have a tongue tie. Although she wanted to get it taken care of right away, as a new business owner, she knew she didn’t have the resources to do so, since treating tongue tie is often not covered by medical insurance. But even working as a speech therapist, she saw how the tongue tie was affecting her.
“When I was doing myofunctional therapy with my clients, I was in severe pain because I was compensating for tongue tie,” said Courtney. “Just doing tongue suction on the roof of my mouth would make my eyes water.”
So Joesel had a functional tongue tie release done, along with chiropractic care. Instantly, she noticed differences.
“Right away, I could turn my head all the way. I had the typical range of motion I’d never had before. I had always struggled with having my arms over my head, but that got better. Nasal breathing was so much easier,” says Joesel.
Later, Courtney came to see Kelly for craniosacral therapy to further work on the muscular tension that had built up as a result of her tongue tie.
“After craniosacral, I noticed that my tongue rest posture was even more improved than before/ The tension in my upper shoulders and upper back — she just melted it away. It seemed like things finally got to go where they wanted to go,” said Courtney.
Courtney now works with Kelly closely as a provider, referring clients to each other and working collaboratively to help patients get the best outcomes. They also work with other providers in West Michigan to educate the public on the impact of tethered oral tissues, such as in a series of Facebook live videos about tongue tie symptoms and treatment.
How is an Adult Tongue Tie Treated?
Treatment for an adult with a tongue tie is similar to that of an infant or child. It requires a team of professionals that can help release the tight tissues, retrain the tongue to function properly and release the tension built up over years. Craniosacral therapy can help release the tight tissues, leading to better tongue function and also relieving secondary symptoms such as TMJ pain, migraines, tension, range of motion, and more.
If you suspect you have a tongue tie as an adult, speech language pathologist Courtney Joesel recommends first seeking out the help of a certified myofunctional therapist for a full evaluation. The therapist will do a full intake history and do an evaluation of your current oral function, and help you determine what to do next.
Joesel says she often refers patients to an ENT for an airway evaluation. As a myofunctional therapist, she wants to improve her patients resting tongue posture on the roof of the mouth, but that requires an adequate upper airway.
“If we have concerns about the airway, we can’t work on that resting posture, because we can’t deprive people of oxygen,” says Joesel. “If they don’t have an airway, we’re not going to make progress. An ENT will look for upper airway obstruction, such as a deviated septum or inflamed nasal turbinates.”
Most likely, if you have a tongue tie, treatment will require the help of several different providers working together, such as an ear nose and throat physician, a dentist trained in releasing tongue ties, a craniosacral therapist or other body worker, a chiropractor, a sleep doctor, an orthodontist or other trained professionals. A good myofunctional therapist will have referrals to good providers that they have worked with who understand tongue tie and can best help their patients. A chiropractor may be required for folks with skeletal issues. Someone with a very small upper palate may need to see an orthodontist to get it widened. Chronic sleep issues, such as sleep apnea, may require the help of a sleep doctor. Each person is unique and will need a specific treatment team.
These providers can also refer you to a dentist who specializes in releasing a tongue tie. The surgical release of the tight tissue can be done in a few different ways. A myofunctional therapist and craniosacral therapist can help you prepare for the surgical release, making it less painful and more successful in the long run.
Joesel highly recommends pursuing craniosacral therapy both before and after a tongue tie release.
“I can drastically see the difference in individuals who are using craniosacral therapy prior and after a release. We tend to have a lot better results prior to the release - it’s amazing what I see happen with craniosacral,” says Joesel.
“If your muscles are in a state of tension, that can really just impact your overall structure of the tongue and mouth. To ensure the integrity of the release, we need to make sure that those muscles are in their optimal state.”
Client Holly Cieslinski says going to Kelly as a craniosacral therapist has really helped her through the process of getting her tongue tie released, both physically and emotionally.
“Kelly is so wonderful. She has been great,” said Holly.
“Each week, she knew the specific areas we really needed to work on. She’s just been extremely supportive emotionally through it, extremely validating. I experience so much physical relief after my CST visits. It’s kind of insane the difference between before and after!”
Using Craniosacral Therapy to Treat Tongue Tie
Craniosacral therapy, or CST, is a light-touch therapy that helps release restrictions in the pelvis, spine, neck, and skull, which improves the function of the central nervous system. CST is an extremely gentle way to release tension in the midline, allowing improved motion for the tongue and the entire body.
During craniosacral therapy, clients remain fully clothed and lay on a large, foam-padded massage table, laying face up. We have pillows, table warmers and blankets to make sure you’re comfortable and at the right temperature.
Craniosacral therapy uses extremely gentle pressure to facilitate releases — five grams or pressure or about the weight of a nickel. Occasionally, we might use slightly more pressure if there’s an area we’re trying to reach, but typically, it’s very light and gentle. This gentleness can help the body relax and release more deeply than other therapies that work with more pressure.
Treating adults for tongue tie ideally involves craniosacral therapy both pre- and post-release. Usually, clients come in for a one-and-a-half to two-hour initial intake session, where we’ll have you fill out an intake form, taking in your medical history, and you’ll spend some time talking with your therapist so they can learn more about your needs. Typically, we do two more sessions before the release is done, and then five weeks of weekly sessions post-release. Some clients also come in for two more sessions spaced out to make sure their healing continues. We have found that longer sessions of one and half to two hours seem to be more helpful in speeding up the healing process.
Around two to four weeks post-release, the scar tissue naturally tightens, and clients often wonder if the tissue has re-attached, but it's just a part of the healing process. When we get into the 4th and 5th week, usually bodies are finding their patterns, and we can begin spacing out sessions as positive changes are holding much better.
“We begin to space sessions out as our clients continue to see progress,” says Kelly. “I've had clients come in two years after a release saying they are still noticing their body settling in to the changes.”
Seeing the changes that clients notice post-release is exciting and often surprising. Leading up to the release, the coordinated efforts of multiple providers creates a lot of anticipation, and experiencing the release itself and recovery is a process in itself. Watching the pieces fall into place and allowing the body to realign after the release is incredibly interesting and gratifying.
“It’s wild seeing the dramatic shift in the body after the release has happened,” says Kelly. “Everything is moving dramatically. It’s almost as if the body is bracing itself for all the shifts and reorganizing. It’s a fun and powerful experience to be a part of.”
Sarah noted so many changes that she hadn’t anticipated, including a dramatic decline in sensitivity to textures and sounds that used to be very difficult to handle, which she now attributes to her poor sleep.
“I no longer cringe at certain textures when I touch them,” said Sarah. “Sound is much fuller to me than it once was, and I love music more than I ever have. It makes sense when you realize how the ear, nose and throat are connected!”
I’m Wondering If I Have a Tongue Tie: Where Do I Start?
If you know or suspect that you have a tongue tie as an adult, we would recommend booking an intake session to speak with one of our therapists. We will happily refer you to other specialists in the area whom we know are knowledgeable about tongue tie and have a reputation for good results for their clients.
Unfortunately, some providers are not informed about the impact of tongue ties, so don’t be discouraged if your family doctor or dentist doesn’t seem to be knowledgeable or supportive of your suspicions of having a tongue tie or your desire to get it treated. Both Kelly and Courtney encourage their clients to trust their own self-knowledge and find supportive providers.
“Go with your gut,” said Courtney. “Don’t be afraid to give too much information to a provider. What could seem like a really small non important detail could actually be extremely important in their care, to put some puzzle pieces together."
It is an honor to walk alongside people through this journey of healing. Book a session today, and start down the path to healing, less tension and improvements in your whole health!