The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists reports that there are more than 4,000 known birth defects, ranging from mild to severe. Aglossia is one of these known birth defects and occurs when an infant is born without a tongue or an undeveloped tongue.

According to the National Center for Biotechnology Information, aglossia is a "rare anomaly" that develops during the 4th to 8th gestational weeks. In some cases, other congential body abnormalities exist, such as a small jaw, missing feet or hands or oral webbing.

The tongue is an important organ of the body, which plays a key role in swallowing, feeding and speech. In addition to providing taste sensations, it is instrumental in the normal alignment of teeth and development of jaw structure. The tongue's muscular pressure encourages proper growth and shape as the jaw as well as appropriate teeth occlusion (spacing of teeth). In feeding, the muscular function of the tongue contributes to solid and liquid food collection, licking, chewing and swallowing. In terms of breathing, again the muscular force of the tongue promotes obstruction free respiration.

Because a missing tongue can affect jaw development and structure, and hence facial aesthetics, social and psychological development can be impaired without aglossia treatment.

Symptoms of Aglossia
Aside from a missing or malformed tongue, infants with congential aglossia may have feeding, breathing, speech, proper pronunciation and swallowing problems. In addition, some babies have missing teeth, which typically involves missing lower front teeth. The infants tooth enamel may contain defects. If the tongue is malformed, typically the tongue is unusually small with only the back one third of the tongue existing.

Treatment of Aglossia
Because a missing or abnormally formed tongue can have a significant effect on the infant's jaw structure, the go-to treatment protocol is mainly orthodontics. With no tongue available to put pressure on the teeth, it is more difficult for a growing body to maintain good oral function and structure. To prevent complications, like a collapse bite, it is essential that orthodontic treatment is adhered to. This is particularly important if missing teeth are involved.

If speech is slurred or delayed, speech therapy as early as possible is recommended.

Prognosis of Aglossia
While breathing help may be necessary early in life due to a compromised airway, generally speaking, most patients with congenital aglossia can expect a good outcome. Babies can lead a virtually normal life, provided early diagnosis and sustained treatment of swallowing, feeding, breathing, and speech are sought and complied with.

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