Tongue Tie and a Child's Development: Part 1 - Great Health Guide
Tongue Tie and a Child’s Development: Part 1

Tongue Tie and a Child’s Development: Part 1

Written by Dr David McIntosh

Social media can be both a blessing and a curse. When it comes to medical conditions, we have access to a wealth of information. When it comes to health though, it is easy to be misled into thinking that everyone has the same problem as you, when you search for a certain symptom online. At present, the medical condition referred to as ‘tongue tie’ is getting a lot of attention. And when it comes to tongue tie and a child’s development there are even so called ‘support’ pages on social media platforms. Unfortunately, like a lot of things online, unless you know what you are talking about, you will easily fall into self-diagnosis. So, let’s get some facts on the table.

What is a tongue tie?

This describes a condition in the mouth where the attachment of the under surface of the tongue to the bottom of the mouth is too tight and the ability to lift the tongue is compromised.

How common is it?

The biggest research paper published came from India, where they looked at 25,000 babies and found it in 1% of them. In other research it has been suggested that it might be about 4%. So, it is not that common, but likewise it is not rare. 

What problems has it been proven to cause?

When it comes tongue tie and a child’s development, in about half of babies with tongue ties, there will be some problemswith breast feeding. This may manifest as difficulty for the baby to latch on to the breast and result in sore and painful nipples for the mum.

What other problems can this condition cause?

As the tongue is involved in speech, occasionally there can be pronunciation issues with certain sounds. This is very uncommon. The far more common causes of speech problems are hearing loss, ear infections and developmental delay.

Another possible problem is the way the jaw grows. It is theorised that the tongue works to position the teeth into place and this in turns, shapes the jaw bones.

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What other problems are suggested, that have no proof or untrue?

This is a very long list of other suggestions that are incorrectly linked to tongue tie. They include: reflux, sleep apnoea, large tonsils, mouth breathing, snoring, postural problems, scoliosis, gut problems, constipation, diarrhoea, colic and the list goes on and on. Unless you have a medical background, it is easy to get swept up in the frenzy of suggestions that people propose that have nothing to do with tongue tie.

How and when to correct tongue tie?

In babies, where there are feeding problems and a lactation consultant can find no other problem other than a tethered tongue, then that is a reasonable intervention and the sooner the better.

However, only 80-90% of the time will such intervention help. In fact, the research shows that only 20% of breast feeding problems are due to tongue ties. The other 80% relate completely to other factors, so it is important to access lactation support.

In the following article, in this issue of Great Health GuideTM, Tongue Tie Surgery for Children: Part 2, outlines what procedures and which specialists to select with confidence to treat this condition.

Author of this article:

Dr David McIntosh is a Paediatric ENT Specialist with a particular interest in airway obstruction, facial and dental development and its relationship to ENT airway problems and middle ear disease. He also specialises in sinus disease and provides opinions on the benefit of revision of previous sinus operations. Dr McIntosh can be contacted via website.

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