Parents often ask us, “what happens if I don’t get my child’s tongue-tie fixed?” It can be hard to determine since every case is different, but in this post, we will discuss the short and long-term implications that a tongue- or lip-tie can have on a patient and their family.
Unfortunately, despite statements from well-meaning pediatricians to not worry about the tongue-tie since it won’t cause problems, it will stretch out, or the child will fall and rip the lip-tie, these statements are not grounded in facts. They are misinformation that has been passed down from textbooks or other providers. If a tongue-tie or lip-tie is left alone, it does not stretch out or go away, but it can cause lifelong issues for babies to adults. Many times, the issues are not attributed to a tongue-tie, and parents, healthcare providers, and others don’t realize that the issues are actually rooted in a restricted tongue.
For infants, we see symptoms start with a few tell-tale signs like nipple pain for moms or slow weight gain for infants (although not all will have these specific issues). As the weeks progress, they check off more issues on our infant form (below), like reflux, colic, excessive gas, hiccups, choking or coughing, and taking forever to feed. Switching to a bottle takes away the issues for the mother, but the infant’s issues typically remain. Colic is not normal, but parents are told to simply wait it out, and it will get better in 3 or 4 months. Speaking of cost, can you put a price on a good night’s sleep for parents or the brain development happening at 1% a day for infants during high-quality sleep?
Many moms come to see us to help them continue to breastfeed. We fully support moms who choose infant formula and we have many bottle-feeding moms who we help daily. For the price comparison for a mom who desires to breastfeed but must switch to formula due to a tongue-tie, let’s look at the cost difference. Switching to infant formula is not cheap. On average, a baby needs around 25-30oz a day (if you average newborn stage plus as they get older) for 365 days, so 9,125 to 10,950oz. until you can transition to whole milk. Previous infant formula costs averaged around $1500 for a year’s supply. In 2022, the costs of formula feeding have skyrocketed. The least expensive Enfamil NeuroPro is now $0.25 an ounce, so $2500 for a year of formula feeding.
Nutramigen, which many of our tongue-tied babies use, is $0.50/oz on the official website. That’s a staggering $5,000 for a year of Nutramigen. Not to mention, many of the tongue-tied babies are spitting up a good portion of their feeds, and it ends up on the floor or your shirt. Many babies with tongue-ties are told they have a milk protein allergy because the primary care provider doesn’t realize that their GI symptoms are often from a restricted tongue. Just give them some PureAmino or Elecare at $5,800 per year. Providers are not trained to properly assess for tongue- and lip-ties in medical school or residency. Once the true cause, the tongue-tie, is addressed, their tummies feel better, and we often see less colic, reflux, spitting up, and fussiness, and they can switch to a cheaper formula.
Once they get older, there are often speech issues, solid feeding issues, and sleep issues in children. Speech and feeding therapy are not cheap either. Early intervention and school-based therapy (often in a group setting) are included with tax dollars, and depending on your health insurance, a large portion can be covered after your several thousand dollar deductible is met. But assuming $100-250 a session, depending on location, private weekly therapy adds up to $5,200 to $13,000 a year for speech or feeding therapy. Even a $50 copay weekly adds up to $2,600 a year. If a tongue-tie is impacting the child’s tongue mobility, releasing the tongue-tie first can make it much easier to make the correct sounds with the correct tongue placement. A child can also chew, lateralize, and swallow food much easier if their tongue works, and instead of years in speech or feeding therapy, they can often graduate in a fraction of the time.
A restricted tongue has lifelong implications for sleep. Sleep is critical for repairing the body, growth (growth hormone is secreted during deep sleep), brain development (making connections, learning, memory), and immune system function. A restricted tongue can cause the tongue to fall back into the airway during sleep which narrows or cuts off the airway leading to breathing issues during sleep. Thankfully, your brain wakes you up just a little bit to have you change position or grind your teeth and jut your jaw forward to open the airway. Unfortunately, this puts your brain in a lighter stage of sleep, so you achieve less high-quality, deep sleep. This can lead to trouble paying attention (ADD), hyperactivity (ADHD), learning issues, and emotional outbursts, and predisposes a child to mouth breathing, snoring, sleep-disordered breathing, and, if left unchecked, sleep apnea. Sleep apnea will take years off your life, cost thousands of dollars to treat, as well as significant quality of life issues of fatigue, high blood pressure, heart disease, chronic inflammation, and more.
Having a baby’s (or child’s, adult’s, or as soon as it is identified) tongue-tie fixed can help them to thrive and improve on things like nutrition, speech, sleep quality, and behavior. Having that tongue-tie treated properly by a knowledgeable provider for an average cost of $1,000 is an investment in your child’s future. In many instances, not treating can lead to financial, emotional, and health consequences.
For healthcare providers who want to learn more about this condition to better help their patients, check out our comprehensive online course, Tongue-Tied Academy. All proceeds are donated to charity.