You may have heard about tongue tie from another parent. Tongue tie, or ankyloglossia, is when a thin cord of tissue attaches from the tongue to the bottom of the mouth making tongue movement more restricted. It can create feeding issues for babies and potentially lead to a speech impediment.
A tongue tie is often diagnosed when a baby is a newborn. Parents may also notice their baby is irritable and has difficulty breastfeeding. Their baby struggles with latching and gaining weight which leads to more frequent feeding demands and longer nursing sessions. This not only interferes with the baby’s livelihood, but can cause physical pain for the baby’s mother and extra stress on the parents. Stress can manifest into chronic anxiety in parents as well as postpartum depression in mothers.
Research shows that tongue tie is common. An estimated 4 to 11% of all infants experience tongue tie, and between 1997 and 2012, the diagnosis of tongue tie increased by 834%. It can run in families, and researchers speculate it may have a genetic component.
The good news is that tongue tie is treatable. Sometimes the issue resolves itself and other times it requires a surgical procedure.
Lingual frenotomy is the most common procedure. It does not require general anesthesia and takes place in a physician’s office. An Ear, Nose & Throat specialist simply snips the tissue with sterile scissors.
In more complex and severe cases, a more invasive surgical procedure – the frenuloplasty of the tongue – may be necessary. This involves removing or rearranging some of the tissue cord or muscle flaps, and requires general anesthesia. While a frenuloplasty may be necessary for some babies, a lingual frenotomy is the more common procedure.
Sometimes a tongue tie will be treated while a newborn is still in the hospital. Other times, it may be identified by the hospital physician, and the parents may wait and see if it interferes with their baby’s feeding habits or temperament. If you have any questions or concerns about your baby, call or use MyChart to contact your baby’s pediatrician.
Dr. Alex Manteghi is a physician at Barton Ear, Nose & Throat. Dr. Manteghi is specially trained to treat children of all ages after completing a pediatric otolaryngology-head and neck surgery fellowship at Rady Children’s Hospital, UC San Diego. Join Dr. Manteghi for a free webinar on Thursday, Feb. 11, where he will present on A Parent’s Guide to Pediatric Ear, Nose & Throat Conditions and Treatments. Register at bartonhealth.org/lecture.
This article is based on research gathered from Grace Kim, Timothy Koo, and Sri Chennupati at Lehigh Valley Health Network (Soundings Newsletter, Fall 2020).