Pediatricians and other healthcare providers often tell parents that their babies will simply outgrow their tongue tie or that it will stretch. Usually if there is a conversation about tongue ties taking place, there is some kind of difficulty or problem with breastfeeding.
The problem can be on the side of the baby where the latch is inefficient and also on the side on the mother where breastfeeding can be painful. There can be an array of different symptoms based on how the tongue and lip functions are affected.
Essentially the bad information the parents are given is just to “suck it up.” Sometimes knowing something is wrong, parents will seek solutions on their own. But too often, that is not the case. So why are parents being given misinformation?
Tongue ties are not part of any normal medical or dental school or residency training. What that means, is that most healthcare providers have no real training on tongue ties or any other tethered oral tissues. So for whatever reason, there is a strong resistance to the idea by many healthcare workers.
But why should you trust me? How do you know the information I’m about to share with you is more accurate?
I am a physician and I have studied the tongue, including normal tongue motion, and tongue ties for the last 6 years. Not just in babies, but the effects tongue ties and improper tongue functions have in adults. I have studied how the tongue ties affect the body and health from babies to adults.
For full disclosure, I do not perform releases of tethered oral tissues and have no benefit from them other than the satisfaction of seeing how lives and health are improved.
Now, let’s get to the topic at hand. I want to discuss why a baby will NEVER outgrow their tongue tie. To do so, we will use webbing in our fingers as an analogy. The webbing in our fingers develops in a similar fashion to how the frenulums in our lips and tongue develop. It is the frenulums that end up tethering the tongue or lip making it unable to function properly. To be clear, it is the frenulum that is the tongue tie.
While developing embryologically, our fingers and toes resemble those of an aquatic animal. The webbing is to the tips. The cells in the webbing go through a process of programmed cell death, called “apoptosis.” The cells at the front of the webbing die and the webbing recedes from the front to the back.
This is what happens with the frenulum. For whatever reason sometimes genetic or epigenetic, the frenulum of the tongue or lip do not completely recede as they should. This is like the webbing between two fingers only receding half way.
If the webbing is tight, it will keep both fingers together and they would have to function in unity. One would not be able to spread their fingers apart no matter how much they tried because the webbing physically would make that impossible. There would be some motions that may not be affected by the webbing, but most would.
If the baby was born with webbed fingers and your pediatrician said they would “outgrow” the webbing, would you believe them?
I hope not because the webbing would not just “magically” go away as they got older. It would also grow and keep the fingers tethered together. Unlike fingers, the tongue is able to compensate better for the tether as we get older. That does not mean it goes away. It also does not mean that there are no health consequences from leaving it in tact in the long run.
Would you expect the webbing in the fingers to just “stretch out?” Probably not, even if there was some stretching of the webbing, it would be minimal and still have an effect on the overall function of the fingers. Even if the webbing stretched some, would this person be able to play a piano normally?
Would it be the same for the person trying to play the piano to leave the webbing intact versus having a surgical procedure to complete the process? Because that’s really the goal of performing a tongue tie release: To complete the process as nature intended.
Muscles cells are designed to stretch out. Not every tissue in the body is designed the same way. For example, tendons or ligaments that anchor muscles to bone or bone to bone, get pulled on regularly and they do not stretch over time. That would be a problem and lead to many injuries.
The tissue that makes up tongue and lip ties unfortunately is closer to the connective tissue that make up tendons and ligaments than muscle tissue. Frenulums are not designed to stretch out because of that.
So hopefully at this point, it is clear that if a pediatrician, dentist, or any other healthcare worker tells a parent that their baby will “outgrow their tongue tie or that it will stretch”, they have shown that they are misinformed at best on the topic.
They do not give any clear indication of how long it will take to outgrow the tongue tie often leaving the baby and breastfeeding mother suffering unnecessarily because they don’t believe in tongue ties.
It is my hope that the webbing analogy helped to provide clarity. Tongue motion is much more complicated than a tether between two fingers would be so it’s not completely the same but it does help make the point. The reality is that the idea that a baby will outgrow or stretch a tongue tie or lip tie is a myth.
For those who want to understand the role the tongue plays in their body better, I have recorded a guided meditation to explore not just the inherent motion in the tongue, but how it is connected to the rest of the body. Grab your copy by clicking here.