Tongue tie is an ailment that afflicts between three and ten percent of new-born babies, according to the NHS. My eldest was one of those babies.
It is a condition that involves a tight piece of skin forming between the floor of the mouth and the tongue. This restricts the movement of the tongue considerably – making it incredibly difficult for babies to feed, and becoming the source of immense distress and frustration. Also referred to as ankyloglossia, tongue tie is usually a minor problem that requires no medical intervention, but more serious cases will often require a small medical procedure.
What are the symptoms of tongue tie?
The most common symptom is tongue tie in babies is an obvious inability to feed properly. Babies with the ailment will find it difficult to latch onto their mother’s breast, and they will become frustrated as a result. This happens because the baby’s tongue is not covering the lower gum – meaning effective suction can’t take place. You will notice that your baby is sliding off the nipple regularly, as well as nuzzling on it with her gums. Baby will then become tired and not feed properly, and you may be left with sore nipples. In some rare cases, nipples can become ulcerated and bleed.
If you are noticing that your baby is becoming distressed during feeds, and is having trouble latching onto a bottle or your breast, it’s a good idea to consult with an ENT paediatrician for advice.
What treatment is available for tongue tie?
Your baby may have a tight piece of skin connecting her tongue to the floor of her mouth, yet it may not be causing any feeding problems. If this is the case, it is unlikely that a tongue tie practitioner will recommend any form of medical intervention. However, if feeding is laboured, a tongue tie division may be required. This involves cutting the skin that is causing the problem, thus freeing the tongue and allowing the baby to latch onto the nipple more readily.
A tongue tie division in an infant child is usually performed in a doctor’s surgery or clinic with just a local anaesthetic. However, a general anaesthetic is usually required for children with teeth. Your baby’s head will be held firmly in place while a pair of sharp, sterile scissors are used to cut the offending piece of skin (known in the medical profession as the lingual frenulum). This may be a very distressing procedure to watch, but it’s important to know that your baby’s suffering will be minimal. In many cases, babies will start feeding more efficiently right away. There is a chance of some limited bleeding, but this will usually abate after a few minutes. Your tongue tie practitioner may prescribe some mild painkilling medication if necessary.
Whilst most cases of tongue tie will improve as a baby grows, the problem can become worse in some rare instances. This can lead to speech impediments and difficulties eating certain foods. In older children, a general anaesthetic and stitches will often be required.
If you believe that your child has tongue tie, it’s important not to worry yourself unduly. This is a fairly common ailment amongst new-borns, and although it can be distressing, it is usually dealt with quickly and without incident. A consultation with an on tie at the earliest opportunity will ensure your baby’s suffering is kept to a minimum.