Tongue-tie (ankyloglossia) is thought to affect between 0.2- 10.7% of the population. It is a congenital condition (meaning the baby is born with it) in which the tongue remains attached to the floor/ bottom of the mouth. Typically, the lingual frenulum will separate before birth, allowing full range of motion of the tongue; however, in tongue-tie, it does not. The cause of this is largely unknown, but some cases have been linked to certain genetic factors.
However, when tongue-tied the lingual frenulum is too short and tight, which can cause problems with tongue movement, affecting the way babies breastfeed, and later in life can cause problems with speech.
There are 2 types of tongue-tie: anterior and posterior. This describes which point of the tongue is attached to the floor of the mouth. Anterior means the front of the tongue is attached, whereas posterior means the back of the tongue is attached. Anterior tongue ties are more obvious to the eye, however posterior tongue ties are harder to spot.
Signs and symptoms of tongue-tie include:
- Difficulty latching onto the breast, or staying attached for a full feed
- Baby seems generally unsettled and seems to be hungry all the time
- A ‘clicking’ sound when they feed
- Baby not gaining weight as quickly as they should
- Difficulty lifting the tongue to the upper teeth or moving the tongue from side to side when older
- Trouble sticking out the tongue past the lower front teeth
- A tongue that appears notched or heart-shaped when stuck out
For breastfeeding mums, feeding can also be very painful as well as the following:
- Sore or cracked nipples
- Low milk supply
How can Osteopathy help tongue- tie?
During labour, as babies pass through the birth canal, a lot of pressure is exerted onto the head and into the neck as the head must twist and turn. This can result in compression and tension in the neck.
This neck tension can have long-term consequences for the baby and impact on the ability to feed effectively. It can affect the ability of the baby to open the jaw wide, to use the tongue correctly, and suck effectively and rhythmically, to co-ordinate suck/swallow/breathe. It can also make it difficult for the baby to tilt their head back in order to latch and the associated strain and discomforts can make them very tense and even resistant at the breast.
Tongue ties themselves can also cause abnormal strain within the mouth, face, and jaw. Many mums report that their tongue-tied baby never achieves a wide-open gape and this is due to the tension caused by the tongue-tie which prevents the baby from relaxing and dropping the jaw fully to open the mouth wide.
Cranial osteopaths can identify and treat the effects of head moulding, neck tension, and tongue-tie through gentle manipulation, and can be used in conjunction with a frenuloplasty (surgical cut of the frenulum). Often, if a tongue-tie isn’t treated/ cut within the first 2-3 months, the tension may manifest into the neck and jaw and require Osteopathic treatment despite having the tongue tie cut.