Thursday, March 27, 2014

Implications For Tongue-tied Newborns

We know that breast-fed babies are healthier. We know that they are less likely than formula-fed babies to have health issues throughout infancy, adolescence and into adulthood. I know there are plenty of anti-breast feeding people out there that will dispute this fact. It doesn't change facts though.

So, when parents decide they want to primarily feed their infants with breast milk, it is necessary that the infant be able to latch on properly to the mother's nipple. Unfortunately, some children cannot properly latch on due to their tongue being tied.  This can make nursing incredibly difficult for the infant and very uncomfortable for the mom.  Often tongue-tied infants will have a heart shaped tongue when they try to stick it out, or not be able to stick the tongue out past the lips.  Also, some mothers will notice a clicking sound as their infant nurses.  Nursing will also often be very painful, and babies will not seemed satisfied even after nursing for a long period of time.  If you have any of these signs or symptoms you need to contact a dentist to have your infant evaluated.   

The condition of being tongue-tied is called Ankyloglossia. The word is derived from the Greek words Ankylo and Glossus. Ankylo means fused or stuck together. Glossus is the Greek word for tongue.  Sometimes you may hear it called a short frenulum, too. 

The problem with ankyloglossia is the inability to latch on to the nipple properly. Take a look at the diagram below. It illustrates what happens when an infant's tongue prevents them from latching properly.

The tongue isn't always the culprit. These tissue attachments can also occur on the upper or lower lips resulting in the same issue of being unable to latch properly. Infants' lips need to be able to flange in order to create proper suckling.  

Fortunately, this condition is rather easy to correct with modern surgical procedures. I perform the surgery with a laser. It is relatively quick, easy and painless.  Often the only comfort measures needed is to latch the baby on immediately following the procedure.  Nursing will help comfort the baby and will also apply pressure that will help with any minimal bleeding that may occur.  Often the fear of the procedure is more scary for mothers than the actual procedure, and the benefits of comfortable nursing for both the mother and infant is so great, it is worth it to have the procedure done. 

Before and After correction

If your baby is tongue-tied and you wish to breast feed, then find a dentist that can make this simple correction for you. Not all dentists perform this procedure, or use a laser.  A laser is necessary as this helps to minimize bleeding and accelerate healing time. You may need to call around and ask if they offer this service.  

Dr. Cisneros maintains a practice in Freeburg and Columbia, IL. Both are in the Greater St Louis, MO area. For more information on a wide variety of subjects, please visit

Co-written by Dr. Martin Cisneros and Carrie Owens

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