Understanding Tongue Tie, Impact on Breastfeeding, & More

Understanding Tongue Tie, Impact on Breastfeeding, & More


Only about 3 percent of babies have tongue-tie (ankyloglossia), and a majority are male. This is a condition in which there is an abnormally short lingual frenulum, which is the thin piece of skin under the tongue. Tongue-tie can be a genetic condition passed on in families. The movement of the tongue is often restricted, resulting in various problems, including difficulty swallowing. The most notable complication that can occur from birth involves breastfeeding, and other issues may become evident later on.

Tongue-Tie and Breastfeeding

Multiple issues with tongue-tie can occur related to breastfeeding. A baby has to keep his tongue above the lower gum to breastfeed. An infant may have trouble latching on because he can’t move the tongue into the correct position. Instead of effectively sucking at the breast, the baby may only chew. As a result, the baby doesn’t get needed nutrition and the mother experiences significant nipple pain. Over time, if the child isn’t getting sufficient nourishment at the breast, the mother’s milk supply decreases.

Failure to Thrive

Due to poor intake of breast milk, the baby may experience failure to thrive. By definition, “failure to thrive” is arrested or decelerated physical growth, with weight and height measurements falling below the third or fifth percentile. It can also be diagnosed as a result of a downward change in growth in two major growth percentiles. It is important for parents of a baby with tongue-tie to note that failure to thrive is serious because it is associated with abnormal growth and development. Irreversible damage can be done. Only in extreme cases is the condition fatal.

Other Complications Associated with Tongue-Tie

A child with tongue-tie may have difficulty moving the tongue from one side to the other or lifting it to the upper teeth. Another symptom is that the tongue may look heart-shaped or notched when stuck out, though a child with this condition may not be able to stick the tongue out past the lower front teeth. The following are common complications experienced with tongue-tie, in addition to breastfeeding issues:

  • Speech problems are common among children with tongue-tie. Certain sounds in particular are difficult, including “d,” “l,” “r,” “s,” “t,” “th,” and “z.”
  • A variety of oral issues can be challenging, including licking the lips, licking a lollipop or ice cream, playing a wind instrument, and kissing.
  • Children and adults often have more difficulty than others sweeping food debris from the teeth and mouth. As a result, individuals with this condition experience a higher than normal rate of tooth decay and gingivitis (inflammation of the gums).
  • Formation of a space or gap between the bottom two front teeth.

When to See a Doctor for Tongue-Tie

If your baby has difficulty breastfeeding, it could be a sign of tongue-tie, and it is recommended that you schedule an appointment with a pediatrician. In the following circumstances, as well, see a doctor:

  • If a speech-language pathologist says struggles with your child’s speech are associated with ankyloglossia.
  • If you have related symptoms that are bothering you.
  • If your child complains of problems with the tongue that affect speaking, eating, and/or reaching the back teeth during brushing.

Contact the Specialists at Gep TOTs Dental Group

For tongue-tie issues, pediatricians often refer patients to see a specialist, such as the experienced doctors at Gep TOTs Dental Group at Woodbridge Kids Dentistry. Call Gep TOTs today at 647-492-7059, for the help you need and answers to questions about tongue-tie.