When are tongue-tie surgeries necessary and when should you wait?

Photo: iStock
Photo: iStock 

Mums who struggle to breastfeed undergo one helluva heart-squeezing ride.

If and when a medical professional suggests a simple tongue-tie surgery may help correct the issue, mums seem increasingly eager to consider it.

In fact, the number performed in the US has soared from about 1,200 tongue-tie or frenotomy surgeries in 1997 to more than 12,400 in 2012, according to one study.

Now comes research that says the procedure has become too common.

About 63 per cent of babies referred to a specialty centre did not need the operation, researchers report in the July journal JAMA Otolaryngology - Head and Neck Surgery.

The small study involved 115 babies, most about one month old.

'Are all of these procedures necessary?'

Study author Dr. Christopher Hartnick, director of Pediatric Otolaryngology at Massachusetts Eye and Ear, said the study is limited but begs for further inquiry.

"It's been surprising to see such an uptick over the last decade, to see people sent in for something they weren't sent in for before," Hartnick told the Huffington Post, adding that he receives about five referrals for surgery a week.

"We wondered, 'Is the indication proper? Are all of these procedures necessary?'"

Advertisement

The surgery can be necessary for infants when the lingual frenulum, the tissue that connects the tongue to the floor of the mouth, is too tight, restricting the tongue's movement.

In order to breastfeed, Hartnick told Reuters, an infant needs to "form a seal with their mouths around the nipple of the mother or a bottle."

The minor surgery allows infants to latch on or suck.

The study points out that tongue-tie surgery can cost $850 to $8,000 in the US.

Harnick told the Huffington Post that to him this means that it's okay for parents to get a surgeon's opinion, but to take a "multidisciplinary look" at what's happening and include pediatricians, lactation consultants, speech pathologists, and ear, nose and throat specialists in the conversation.

USA Today