Tongue-Tie Surgeries Are Popular, But They’re Harming a Lot of Babies

Tongue-Tie SurgeriesThe New York Times recently reported on the increasing number of “tongue-tie” procedures for breastfeeding newborns. The procedure, which has been around a long time, involves snipping “a bundle of tissue that attaches the tip of [a baby’s] tongue to the bottom of their mouth.” For some children, this procedure helps them breastfeed more effectively.

The problem is that the majority of babies undergoing these tongue-tie don’t need them. Studies show that the procedure doesn’t always help those kids. What these procedures have been doing, however, is making people rich. From The New York Times:

[S]ome lactation consultants and dentists pitch laser surgery to anxious and exhausted mothers… as a cure-all that will improve breastfeeding and prevent a litany of health problems, including sleep apnea, speech impediments and constipation, according to dozens of parents, dentists, doctors and consultants.

Tongue-tie evangelists recommend lasering not only the tissue under the tongue but also the webbing that connects the lips and cheeks to the gums. Diagnosing and cutting these “oral ties” — often for hundreds of dollars — has become a niche industry.

These procedures – which often aren’t necessary – are so common that one Kentucky pediatrician sent a warning to its patients about the risks and trauma that a tongue-tie release can cause.

Is there any risk to a tongue-tie surgery?

All surgeries have risks, but the most common one for tongue-ties is pain, and that presents an issue aside from the suffering of the child. Remember: tongue-tie surgeries are supposed to help babies who are struggling to eat. But for some children, the pain from the surgery is severe. Some babies develop large sores in their mouths which can cause excruciating pain. This pain can be enough to stop the child from eating at all (oral aversion), which can lead to malnutrition and dehydration. If this happens, a doctor may insist on a feeding tube, or your child may need to undergo eating therapy.

Why are tongue-tie surgeries so popular?

There are some other benefits of tongue-tie surgeries. In some cases, it can improve a child’s speech, or reduce the risk of a gap developing between a child’s teeth. The Kentucky pediatrician we referenced earlier says that tongue-ties can make it difficult to play an instrument like the flute or to lick an ice cream cone. But the number one reason for tongue-tie surgeries is to help babies breastfeed.

Often times, these surgeries are popular with parents because of the push for breastfeeding that comes from all around them.

The reason tongue-tie surgeries are popular with the medical industry is because they’re making money hand over fist. The surgeon, the referring specialist, the device manufacturer – they all stand to make money. We understand that this is a cynical view, but we cannot ignore the fact that these procedures are fast and largely uncovered by insurance. From the New York Times:

Dr. Scott Siegel of Manhattan has been cutting babies’ tongues for two decades, ever since he took over the practice of one of the authors of the 2004 article. He said he sees up to 100 patients a week, charging $900 for a five-minute procedure to release oral ties.


One company, Biolase, sells an $80,000 laser machine…. Biolase’s chief executive, John Beaver, said he thought tongue-tie releases were beneficial to patients. He said the company’s financing plan meant dentists needed to perform only three procedures a month to break even and could generate a “huge” return on investment by doing more.

Dr. Soham Roy, chair of the pediatric ear, nose and throat practice at Children’s Hospital Colorado, has operated on babies injured by lasers. “There are some folks out there who either buy or rent these lasers and they use them as cash-making machines,” he said.

Do parents have legal recourse for an unnecessary tongue-tie surgery?

If your child was harmed, or if you or your baby sustained losses, then you may be able to file a medical malpractice lawsuit for an unnecessary tongue-tie release. For example, if your child was left unable to eat or has developed difficulties with eating, or if he or she suffered brain damage because of oxygen deprivation during or after the procedure, you may have a case. If, however, your child suffered no short or long-term effects from the surgery, then your path forward may be more challenging. Our Kentucky medical malpractice lawyers will listen to your story and help you understand your options.

Wilt Injury Lawyers maintains offices in Louisville and Lexington, and serves families throughout Kentucky. If you or your child suffered harm from an unnecessary surgery, we would like to help you. Please call or fill out our contact form to schedule a free consultation today.