The Relationship Between Tongue Tie and Sleep Apnea

February 2, 2021

It’s often said that someone is “tongue tied” when they are having difficulty articulating their words clearly and concisely. But did you know that tongue tie is a medical condition? It occurs when the lingual frenulum (the piece of tissue that connects the tongue to the bottom of the mouth) is too short or too thick. It restricts the tongue’s ability to move as freely as it should, making it hard to articulate what you are trying to say. Tongue tie is known primarily for its ability to cause speech impediments and breastfeeding difficulties, but it can also lead to sleep apnea. Let’s discuss the connection between these two issues.

Tongue Tie and Obstructive Sleep Apnea

There are a couple different ways in which tongue tie can contribute to obstructive sleep apnea (OSA):

  • Habitual mouth breathing. Many individuals with a tongue tie are also perpetual mouth breathers. When it occurs over an extended period of time, mouth breathing can cause micro trauma to the tissues in the back of the throat, including the tonsils. The tonsils might then become enlarged and cause airway obstructions during sleep. This is a major contributing factor in sleep apnea.
  • A lower resting position for the tongue. When a child is developing physically, their tongue should contact the palate, the roof of their mouth. Tongue tie forces the tongue to adopt a lower resting position, which interferes with the development of the palate. This can cause an abnormally arched or high palate, leaving less room for the nasal passageways above it and contributing to breathing difficulties, including OSA.

Do You Have a Tongue Tie?

If you exhibit any of the following symptoms in addition to sleep apnea, it is possible that tongue tie is the reason why:

  • Difficulty speaking after drinking even a small amount of alcohol
  • Frequent dental problems, such as cavities
  • A tendency to avoid certain food textures
  • An inability to open your mouth wide

Finding Freedom from Tongue Tie

In many cases, doctors address tongue tie early in a child’s life as pediatricians will check this during yearly visits as they are monitoring developmental milestones. A child with a tongue tie will undergo a frenectomy, which is a minor surgery that loosens the lingual frenulum. When tongue tie is not caught early on, it can continue to cause problems — including OSA — into adulthood.

If you suspect you have tongue tie, it isn’t too late to undergo a frenectomy. Many dentists and oral surgeons perform this procedure for both children and adults. However, you should not expect that a frenectomy will automatically cure tongue tie-related issues. You might need myofunctional therapy to train your tongue to rest in its proper place, after years of finding rest in the wrong position. Your dentist may also urge you to take advantage of sleep apnea therapy to help you sleep better while you are in the process of recovering from tongue tie.

A tied tongue is a serious problem that can interfere with your daily life and rob you of sleep. Fortunately, treatments are available to help you free your tongue and start getting the high-quality rest you deserve.

About the Author

Dr. Kenneth Mogell, a board-certified specialist in sleep medicine with over 10 years of experience treating sleep breathing disorders is the practice’s founder and primary practitioner. The practice has four South Florida locations: Boca Raton, Melbourne, Vero Beach, and Jupiter. To learn more about Florida Dental Sleep Disorders and Dr. Kenneth Mogell, contact our team at 844-294-7559.