At 8 weeks old, my daughter was about to have her tongue tie released. Up to that point, she had been having trouble with breastfeeding, but we decided to make an appointment because she could not drink out of a bottle when my wife returned to work. I watched her latch on in the procedure room right before having it done. Did we make the right choice?
The tongue is a very unique and complex structure in the body. It is the only muscle with a freely moveable end. Interestingly, it works more like the tentacles of an octopus rather than skeletal muscle. It is requires five of twelve cranial nerves for its function. Our tongues help us swallow, breathe, and speak. From the moment we are born, proper tongue function is crucial to survival. A newborn child needs a properly working tongue to breastfeed. Without it, a child may not be able to get the proper nutrition it needs to thrive. In many cases, problems in structure can cause a tongue to be dysfunctional.
A common problem that many newborns have is related to tongue ties (ankyloglossia) and lip ties. Tongue ties often have a genetic component. They take place when some of the tissue under the tongue does not recede properly embryologically. The result is that the tongue is not able to move freely the way it should. There are different places the tongue can be restricted by a tongue tie that will not be covered here.
The restriction can anchor the tongue to the floor of the mouth and prevent it from latching correctly during breastfeeding and rising up during swallowing. A severe tongue or lip tie can affect normal tooth development and cause speech problems. A properly performed lip and tongue frenectomy can free up the tongue and help restore normal function to it.
Tongue ties and lip ties are not the only structural issues that can affect tongue function. For example, the hypoglossal nerve, which regulates tongue motion, can become compressed between two parts of a developing occipital bone before it fuses. The hyoid bone, a horseshoe shaped bone with no bony articulations, is an anchor point for the tongue. It rises and drops during swallowing.
The hyoid has many muscle and connective tissue attachments that an imbalance there can prevent the tongue from working correctly and proper swallowing. The good news is that many of these structural issues can be gently released noninvasively using osteopathy. These issues can have effects on the neck and spine producing tension there. Sometimes it can be a good idea to resolve these issues to optimize the function of the tongue prior to a frenectomy. This is what my wife and I did with our daughter.
Osteopathy is a gentle hands-on approach that harnesses the body’s self-healing mechanisms to make corrections. At Osteopathic Integrative Medicine, we have multiple osteopathic physicians that have experience with treating newborns, toddlers, kids, and adults with tongue ties. In conjunction with a frenectomy, when appropriate, osteopathy can really make a huge difference in a baby’s ability to breastfeed in an optimal way. In the case of my daughter, it made a tremendous difference.
She was able to open her jaw wider and have a much more effective latch after the frenectomy. It allowed her to drink normally from a bottle. As parents, we felt we made the right choice. In conjunction with osteopathy, she thrived and it gave us much needed peace of mind.