The significance of Tongue and Lip ties (and what to do about it): a case study

By Chiropractor Dr. Annika Jende

Recently, I had a young baby girl referred to me by the lovely lactation consultant Alissa in Port Macquarie. Baby was about 6 weeks old at that point, and had such a hard time breastfeeding because she couldn’t latch properly and would actually gag while trying to feed, which was obviously very distressing for both Baby and Mum (and the rest of the family).

She had both a tongue and a lip tie (this is where the little bit of tissue that usually starts at the top of the gum and tethers to the top lip starts down the gum, and sometimes even between the two front teeth). – Just as a side note, this often correlates with a MTHFR problem, so if you are in this situation, ask the practitioner about it, because the child is likely to need supplements.

If you are interested, just check the images on the web of tongue and lip ties.

Now, I know that lip and tongue ties seem to be “all the rage” at the moment, but they are actually hugely important. As you know, when children are born, the bones of their skull are not fully formed – that’s why babies have those soft spots on the tops of their heads. The bones of the skull actually form inside a membrane (as opposed to cartilage, like the rest of our bones including the face), so they can adapt to the shape the brain is taking. How amazing is that! The brain grows to its full size by age 3, although there is obviously a lot of internal rearranging that goes on for the rest of our lives.

But I digress.

A tongue tie does literally that – which makes it very difficult to suckle and to speak clearly later in life, particularly pronouncing the letters t, d, n, l, s, z and r.

If you have a lip tie, this tie acts like a tendon, meaning that every time the child moves her top lip, it pulls on the bones of the skull. The skull is like a 3 dimensional jigsaw puzzle, meaning that if you pull on something somewhere, you change how all the bones work. It also changes the tension in all the muscles of the mouth region. These factors in turn usually compromise the nerve supply to that whole region, because the nerves that supply that area come out of a hole in the skull called the jugular foramen, so there’s a vicious circle of nerve irritation and compromise causing more muscle tightness and more irritation – this is why the gag reflex was so pronounced.

To help Baby, we had to work on the bones of the skull as well as on all the muscles around the mouth and jaw. Poor Baby did NOT enjoy this (and neither did Mum or I). After a couple of preparatory visits, Baby had the lip and tongue tie lasered (this is a painless way of severing the ties), and we kept treating her like we had previously. Mum also did some work at home, and Baby treated herself by shoving her whole fist into her mouth (despite gagging). Clever Baby!!

In less than a month, Baby latched beautifully, didn’t gag, and her whole face had actually changed shape as the muscles around the mouth were no longer too tight and the nerves were working properly. In fact, she seemed like a completely different person, and the whole family was so much more happy and relaxed.

It’s a good day in practice when you know that you have changed the course of someone’s life for the better!

Check out this article on tongue ties