Tongue-tie: New guidelines for assessing and treating babies

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The Ministry of Health has released new guidelines for assessing and treating babies born with tongue-tie.

Newborn baby in hospital. Baby care unit.

Tongue-tie surgery involves cutting a thin piece of skin joining the underside of the tongue to the lower jaw. Photo: 123RF

It comes on the back of concerns raised by some health professionals about over-diagnosis, and an increase in the number of surgeries.

Associate minister of health Ayesha Verrall said the ministry met with health professionals in April last year to develop the guidelines.

“Several issues were identified including a lack of consistent information for consumers about the risks and benefits of surgical treatment for tongue-tie; inconsistent and inequitable access to treatment when indicated,” she said.

“With the new guidance, parents can be reassured that no matter who is treating your baby or where you live, all health professionals are following the same advice to refer, assess and treat the condition.”

About 5 to 10 percent of babies are born with a tongue-tie, which means normal movement of the tongue is restricted by a very short or tight band of tissue.

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While at least half can still breast-feed normally, others have difficulty.

Verrall said without national advice relating to tongue-tie, there may also be an unnecessary focus on the condition, which may delay the management of other feeding related issues in babies.

“The issue with an over-diagnosis of tongue-tie is that you might end up doing more surgeries than are actually needed. And of course, it’s an incredibly minor surgery, but every surgery carries risk and they’re done on small babies,” she said.

“So it’s just making sure that there’s a proper process for deciding who needs to have the surgery and who doesn’t.”

The guidelines also recommend that those performing the surgery continually audit their practice, and all referrals for breast-feeding issues related to tongue-tie are documented.

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