When Tongue Tie Goes Untreated

The effects of ankyloglossia (tongue tie) are varied and, depending upon the age and severity of the condition, they can be mild or serious. One thing is certain, the longer treatment is withheld, the more serious the ramifications over time.

Breastfeeding May Be Abandoned

When an infant is tongue tied and therefore unable to breastfeed properly, there are a variety of issues that will impact mother, baby and the family. There will naturally be an impact on the milk supply since suckling determines the quantity of milk produced. If the baby is unable to nurse properly for an extended period of time, then the milk will lessen and, if pain is too much to bear, the mother may decide to stop breastfeeding entirely and go to a bottle. The baby, if nursing and not getting enough milk, will not thrive and the bond between mother and babe will suffer. If a mother dreads breastfeeding, the baby picks up on her negative emotions and reacts accordingly. It gives rise to feelings of inadequacy and failure in the mother and could lead to depression. Both mother and baby will end up sleep deprived because the baby is hungry and unable to be satiated. Ultimately, there will be a problem introducing solid foods into the baby's diet due to vomiting or swallowing too much air.

Baby's Oral Framework May Be Affected

If the mother moves the baby away from the breast and to a bottle, whether she expresses her own milk or uses formula, there are some negative consequences that result. According to lactation consultants there are no bottles or nipples that live up to the claim of being "as good as the breast". Additionally, sucking patterns for breastfeeding are quite different from those required for bottle feeding, possibly creating undesirable effects on the skeletal structure of the palate of the baby. Bottle feeding requires the baby to use up and down movements that are very strong in order to extract milk through a nipple. As a result, a high, narrow, arched hard palate may result. A tongue thrust swallow, where the baby uses the tongue to stop the flow of milk from a nipple that has a too-big hole, may develop. Breastfeeding encourages the formation of the soft and hard palates to be molded into a gentle curve because the breast tissue distributes pressure on the entire palate.

Immunity and Bonding Suffer

Incorrect sucking by the tongue tied baby usually results in a reduction of the milk supply, causing mothers to introduce bottle feeding early. The immunity that is naturally passed from the mother to the baby through breastfeeding is now lost and the baby is deprived of these important antibodies. As the baby becomes frustrated with unsuccessful attempts to feed, the bond between baby and mother may become strained and the bonding process weakened as the mother feels depressed and her baby frustrated. Additionally, bottle feeding may have a negative impact upon dental health was the child grows.

Eating Solids Becomes a Challenge

As the baby grows and solid foods are introduced, the baby may have some difficulty due to the inability to move the tongue correctly. Strong habits of oromuscular movement are quickly developed in the tongue tied baby. If the baby is unable to open his mouth adequately then the tongue may not protrude over the gum ridge and instead may hump at the back of the mouth. The result is that food is pushed out rather than pulled into the mouth.

When pureed or solid foods are introduced into the mouth, they are pushed to the middle of the mouth by the tongue and then to the back of the mouth before they are swallowed. The tongue does the collecting work and compacts the food into a mass that then goes down the esophagus and not the air passages, which would cause choking. A tongue tied child will likely have difficulty dealing with solid foods and the child will have to create ways to manage the food. Limited lateral motion of the tongue, restricted tongue protrusion and elevation for accepting food or licking will all be affected. It will take time and practice for a tongue tied child to learn how to manage eating unless intervention relieves him of the ankyloglossia.