Tongue-tie is sometimes diagnosed during a baby’s routine newborn check, but it’s not always easy to spot. See your health visitor, midwife or GP if you’re concerned about your baby’s feeding and think they may have tongue-tie. Tongue-tie affects around 4-11% of newborn babies.
Tongue Tie– also known as ‘Ankyloglossia’ or ‘anchored tongue’– is a common but often overlooked condition. Now, both diagnosis and assessment of a tongue tie can be made by informed and qualified professionals.
If you think you or your child is having problems caused by tongue-tie, speak to your GP. Tongue-tie division can be carried out in older adults and children, although it’s usually done under general anaesthetic and may involve using stitches.
The purpose of this web site is to inform those with tongue tie, as well as their families and professional helpers, about the condition and how best to deal with it. This little-understood condition affects thousands of adults and children.
Many suffer in silence the multiple difficulties which derive from having a tongue which can not move freely. There are infants who can not suck, toddlers who can not chew, children who can not lick ice creams, and adults and children who are disadvantaged by their poor speech.
To breastfeed successfully, the baby needs to latch on to both the breast tissue and nipple, and their tongue needs to cover the lower gum so the nipple is protected from damage. Babies with tongue-tie aren’t able to open their mouths wide enough to latch on to the breast properly.
If you’re breastfeeding your baby and they have tongue-tie they may:
- have difficulty attaching to the breast or staying attached for a full feed
- feed for a long time, have a short break, then feed again
- be unsettled and seem to be hungry all the time
- not gain weight as quickly as they should
- make a “clicking” sound as they feed– this can also be a sign you need support with the positioning and attachment of your baby at the breast
Tongue-tie can also sometimes cause problems for a breastfeeding mother. Problems can include:
- sore or cracked nipples
- low milk supply
- mastitis (inflammation of the breast), which may keep recurring
- Most breastfeeding problems, however, aren’t caused by tongue-tie and can be overcome with the right support.
If you’re finding breastfeeding difficult, ask your midwife, health visitor or a breastfeeding specialist for help.
Consequences of Untreated Tongue Tie
The consequences of untreated tongue tie are wide ranging and can affect structure and appearance of the face and teeth, as well as oral function. Some consequences, such as breastfeeding difficulties, can be experienced early; others, such as kissing and speaking, only become apparent in later life.
Read more about breastfeeding problems and how to overcome them.
Other signs of tongue-tie
Other signs that may indicate your baby has tongue-tie include:
- difficulty lifting their tongue up or moving it from side to side
- difficulty sticking their tongue out
- When they stick it out, their tongue looks notched or heart-shaped
If your baby has tongue-tie but can feed without any problems, treatment isn’t necessary. Treatment involves a simple procedure called tongue-tie division if their feeding is affected
Tongue-tie division involves cutting the short, tight piece of skin connecting the underside of the tongue to the floor of the mouth (the lingual frenulum).
It’s a quick, almost painless and simple procedure that usually resolves feeding problems straight away.
Tongue-tie division is carried out by a specially trained doctors, midwives or nurses.
In very young babies (those who are only a few months old), the procedure is carried out without anaesthetic (painkilling medication), or with a local anaesthetic that numbs the tongue. A general anaesthetic is usually needed for older babies with teeth, which means they’ll be unconscious throughout the procedure.
The baby’s head is held securely while sharp, sterile scissors are used to snip the tongue-tie. A white patch may form under the tongue, which takes 24 to 48 hours to heal, but doesn’t bother the baby.
Research suggests most babies who have treatment for tongue-tie find breastfeeding easier afterwards.
The Association of Tongue-tie Practitioners (ATP) has a directory of NHS tongue-tie practitioners.
Older adults and children
Untreated tongue-tie may not cause any problems as a child gets older, and any tightness may resolve naturally as the mouth develops. Tongue-tie can sometimes cause problems such as speech difficulties and difficulty eating certain foods.
The premise that tongue tie is not ‘per se’ a medical problem or a cause of speech difficulty has been challenged. It is no longer generally accepted that only those ties severe enough to cause undernourishment, or to prevent pronunciation of tongue tip sounds, are significant.
What should I do about Tongue Tie?
It is widely recognised to be important both for the baby’s health and nourishment, and for bonding to take place between mother and baby. A baby with a tongue tie often can not make the necessary movements that allow feeding to be satisfying for both mother and baby; instead, the experience becomes one of frustration for the baby, and pain, guilt and failure for the mother.
There are several options available when a tongue tie has been assessed and found to be restricting movement (i.e. when the frenum – the string that connects the tongue to the floor of the mouth – is recognised to be abnormal). Such a situation requires surgical correction by an appropriate professional. The age at which this procedure can be performed can range from 7 days to 70 years old