If you’re a new or expectant parent then you may have heard the term tongue tie, especially if you are breastfeeding or planning to breastfeed. What exactly is tongue tie and how likely is it that your baby will be affected?
What is Tongue Tie?
Tongue tie is also known as ankyloglossia. It happens when the strip of skin (or frenulum) that connects the tongue to the base of the mouth is shorter than usual or is attached closer to the tip of the tongue. We all have this thin strip of skin under out tongues, but if it is too short or attached it can cause problems. If the tongue isn’t able to move as freely as it should, then babies can find it harder to breastfeed. Severe tongue tie could also cause problems with speech and eating later on, although this is very rare and the problem can sometimes resolve itself as children get older.
How Common is Tongue Tie in Children?
Tongue tie is fairly common in babies. It is estimated that between 4% and 11% of all babies are born with some degree of tongue tie. The condition is more common in boys than in girls and there does seem to be a genetic component as tongue tie can sometimes run in families. More cases of tongue tie are being spotted thanks to greater awareness, but that doesn’t mean that the condition itself if becoming more common.
Most cases of tongue tie are spotted during the routine newborn checks, but it is sometimes detected later because a baby is having trouble feeding. Some babies with tongue tie are unable to latch on correctly when breastfeeding because they aren’t able to open their mouths wide enough or place their tongues correctly.
Treatments for Tongue Tie
Treatment isn’t always required for tongue tie. Some babies are able to feed normally even if they have mild tongue tie. The skin can also stretch as children grow older, so they may be able to move the tongue normally by the time they are speaking and eating solid foods. However, if the tongue’s movement is very restricted, it may be necessary to correct it.
Tongue tie can be treated with a procedure known as a lingual frenotomy or tongue tie division. It is a very simple surgical procedure that only takes a few seconds. The doctor will use a sterile pair of surgical scissors to cut the frenulum, freeing the tongue to move. The procedure can be performed with just a local anaesthetic in young babies, but older children (over three months of age) may need a general anaesthetic.
Surgery for tongue tie can make it easier for babies to feed. It can also prevent problems with speech later on. The procedure is relatively simple, but it will only be recommended when tongue tie is causing problems for your baby.
If you think that your baby could benefit from tongue tie surgery then you can make an appointment to discuss the procedure with an experienced children’s surgeon.