Tongue tied tots—a frustrating but easily solved issue in newborns.

For many new moms, helping your newborn get a proper breastfeeding latch can be a tricky process. You might read up on helpful breastfeeding tips or try a different approach to nursing, such as laid back breastfeeding. But if you’re finding your baby is still having trouble latching, there might actually be an underlying issue called tongue tie. Here are 10 answers to commonly asked questions about tongue ties, including what they are, why they affect nursing, and how the condition can be treated.

1. What is a tongue tie and why does it happen?

Tongue tie, or ankyloglossia as it’s properly called, is a congenital condition (meaning it’s there when your baby is born) that affects the movement of the tongue. It’s caused by an overly short, thick, or tight lingual frenulum. The lingual frenulum is the small band of tissue that runs perpendicular between the bottom of the tongue and the floor of the mouth.

It isn’t clear why tongue ties occur, but studies do find that boys are more likely to have it than girls and it may be hereditary in some families. Less than 12% of newborns will be born with a tongue tie and, in some cases, treatment may be optional.

2. What is the difference between a tongue tie and a lip tie?

Tongue tie and lip tie are very different conditions, but they produce nearly identical side effects when it comes to complicating nursing and/or bottle-feeding.

A lip tie is similar to a tongue tie but it affects the mobility of the lip (often the upper lip) instead of the tongue. Interestingly, a lip tie and a tongue tie are often both present in most cases. Lip ties on their own are quite rare, with an estimated 1% of babies having an isolated lip tie.

3. How do I know if my baby has a tongue tie?

If your baby has a tongue tie you might notice that they have trouble nursing, seem unable to lift or stick out their tongue, or their tongue looks heart-shaped. You can take a peek under your baby’s tongue and you might be able to see that the frenulum is very short.

To know for certain if your baby has a tongue tie you’ll need a diagnosis from a healthcare professional. Our dentists at Spinnaker Pediatric Dentistry can evaluate your baby or you can schedule an appointment with your pediatrician.

4. Do tongue ties really cause breastfeeding problems?

They do! In fact, many parents don’t realize their baby has a tongue tie until the side effects start presenting during breastfeeding.

Tongue ties make it difficult for your baby to properly latch. You might notice your baby isn’t able to stay latched for the entire feeding or he/she seems unsatisfied after feeding due to not drinking enough. As a mother, you might also experience breast pain, sore nipples, or even mastitis. Tongue tied babies may also not gain weight according to a normal schedule.

5. Do tongue ties affect bottle feeding?

There’s a common misconception that tongue ties only affect breastfeeding. While a tongue tied infant will generally have a harder time breastfeeding than bottle feeding, both cases are still frustrating and less than ideal. The reason bottle-feeding tends to be easier for a tongue tied baby is that a bottle is simply easier to drink from.

Switching to bottle feeding just for the sake of avoiding tongue tie treatment is a discussion you should have with your pediatrician or a lactation consultant. In many cases, it simply isn’t a viable solution.

6. Why does my baby make a clicking sound while nursing?

Clicking during nursing can be caused by a number of factors. Occasional clicking is normal and doesn’t mean there is a problem, but if it’s constant or accompanied by difficulty latching, nipple soreness, and other nursing issues, a tongue-tie may be to blame.

If you change up your nursing positions and still find clicking to be a problem, you should get the opinion of a pediatric specialist to see if a physical problem like a tongue tie is the cause.

7. Why would my newborn refuse to nurse?

Breastfeeding may be natural, but that doesn’t mean it’s always easy. Many moms, new and experienced, may have trouble with their newborn refusing to nurse or having trouble nursing properly. A tongue tie can certainly play a role, but there are plenty of other potential causes.

It’s a good idea to first have your baby examined to rule out physical problems like a tongue tie. From there you may seek the help of a lactation consultant or a similar pediatric specialist who can help you and your baby.

8. How are tongue ties fixed and do they always require treatment?

The treatment procedure for a tongue tie is called a frenectomy. While a frenectomy is surgical in nature, it’s a very simple process and can be done right in Spinnaker Pediatric Dentistry’s office by one of our dentists.

Tongue ties don’t always require treatment, especially in mild to moderate cases. However, when a tongue tie is present and causing a number of issues with nursing, it’s generally advised that a frenectomy be performed. Forgoing treatment may lead to speech development issues and even trouble with eating as your child matures.

9. Will a frenectomy really help my baby breastfeed?

If a tongue tie is the main cause of your baby’s difficulty with nursing, then yes, a frenectomy will absolutely help. It isn’t uncommon for tongue tied babies to have a frenectomy performed and be able to begin nursing naturally right away.

New moms who are also unsure if they’re positioning their baby properly for breastfeeding can really benefit from getting help from a lactation specialist after their baby’s frenectomy is performed.

 10. Is a frenectomy safe and what are the potential complications?

Frenectomy treatment is exceptionally safe as it’s a very simple procedure that is no more invasive than dental care. In some cases with a very abnormal tongue tie, your child may require treatment by a pediatric doctor, but we find that most tongue-ties are easily treated right in our office.

As with any surgical procedure, there is always a risk for complications, no matter how rare that occurrence may be. Our dentists will go over these with you prior to treatment and may even request a consult with your baby’s pediatrician prior to performing a frenectomy.

Visit Spinnaker Pediatric Dentistry for help with tongue tie treatment.

If you’ve been having trouble nursing your otherwise healthy baby, it’s time to get your infant examined for a potential tongue tie or lip tie. Your pediatrician can perform this examination, but did you know your pediatric dentist can as well?

At Spinnaker Pediatric Dentistry, our dentists can diagnose a tongue tie and perform frenectomy treatment. Your baby’s health and happiness are our top priority so we can even consult with your pediatrician and lactation consultant to help you and your child get the best outcome possible.

When you’re ready to make an appointment you can either give our office a call or use our online Request an Appointment form.