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On the Tip of the Tongue

Esther Ilana Rabi

It’s a tiny strip of tissue, but it can have big ramifications. Babies whose tongues aren’t able to move freely can have trouble swallowing and be nearly unable to nurse. What is tongue-tie and how is it treated?

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Take a moment to pay attention to your tongue. Now swallow. Feel that wave-like motion? It touches the roof of your mouth at the front and then rolls backward, while the sides flatten and then curve up again. The tongue should be anchored to the floor of the mouth by a thin strip of tissue called the frenulum. But in 5 to 10 percent of newborns, the frenulum is either too wide or too short, keeping the tongue from being able to move freely — a condition called tongue-tie. The normal swallowing you just experienced would be impossible with a tongue-tie. The effects of tongue-tie on a nursing baby can be serious. “The tiny tongues of babies who are nursing have to be able to perform a complex type of sucking,” explains dentist Dr. Ari Greenspan (half of Mishpacha’s Ari and Ari duo). “A tongue-tie can hinder a baby’s efforts to move his tongue up, down, and out, which is what he needs to do in order to nurse.” Some babies also have an upper lip-tie, which means that the strip of skin under the upper lip is too short or too thick, pinning the lip to the upper gum. The baby can’t open his lip enough to create a good seal while nursing. Up to 80 percent of infants with untreated tongue- or lip-tie can’t gain enough weight by nursing.

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