Last Updated on December 18, 2023 by admin
Tess Merrell, a seasoned mother of three, expected a smooth journey with her fourth baby. However, a month of struggles led her to seek help from Melanie Henstrom, a lactation consultant. Henstrom quickly identified the issue: the newborn’s tongue was tethered to the bottom of her mouth, a common problem often resolved with a brief dental procedure.
“It was seen as this miraculous fix,” shared Merrell, a high school soccer coach from Boise, Idaho.
Henstrom directed Merrell to a dentist who performed a laser procedure under the baby’s tongue in December 2017. Within days, baby Eleanor rejected feeding and became severely dehydrated, spending her first Christmas relying on a feeding tube.
For ages, midwives and doctors have addressed these “tongue-ties” to facilitate breastfeeding. However, in the past decade, the procedure has gained immense popularity, driven by the mounting pressure on women to breastfeed. This trend has led lactation consultants and dentists to promote the procedure aggressively, sometimes for babies without genuine tongue-ties, despite potential risks.
While a fraction of babies are born with tissue attaching their tongue tip to the mouth’s bottom, many of these cases are harmless. Yet, some professionals market laser surgeries as a universal solution, claiming benefits like improved breastfeeding and preventing various health issues, like sleep apnea or speech impediments, despite limited evidence supporting these claims.
The push extends beyond snipping the tissue under the tongue; it involves targeting the webbing connecting lips and cheeks to gums, creating a specialized industry. This surge in procedures, often not covered by insurance, has led to an exponential rise, overwhelming hospitals and specialists across the country.
Studies note a staggering 800% increase in hospital-based tongue releases between 1997 and 2012, surpassing 12,000 cases nationally. Ear, nose, and throat specialists in 25 states report a surge in tongue-tie consultations, while online searches for “tongue tie” doubled in the last five years, indicating the soaring demand for these procedures.