As patients sat in his dental chairs, Dr. James M. Thomas continued to hear the same stories over and over at his former pediatric dental practice, Everyone By One.
With the goal to see infants by age 1, Thomas saw the same recurring problems centered around a baby’s ability to latch during breast-feeding. Airway problems, tonsil, ear infections and restless sleep often accompanied.
“Mothers [are] trying really hard to just feed their infants,” Thomas said of the visits. “I heard so much that I started diving into it.”
Having already practiced treatment for tongue tie and lip tie — two issues that can affect breast-feeding — at his practice, it wasn’t until Thomas became connected with an ear, nose and throat doctor in Portland that his interest in preventative care became a passion.
“I was just kind of like, ‘Wow, this is so for me’ and when I saw the procedure, it put together a lot of the problems those moms were having and it connected the dots for me,” Thomas said. “So, when I came home from that, I told my wife that I was going to sell the practices.”
In April 2016, they did just that.
It was a “pretty bold move,” he said, but it’s one that has led to the recent opening of health:latch, a pediatric laser frenectomy practice in The Bellevue Commons Office Park.
The practice is the first in Washington solely dedicated to releasing tongue and lip tethers to create more suction for newborns during nursing. And they use a “state of the art” CO2 laser instead of scissors or a scalpel.
“It really helps with healing, really minimal bleeding and it works very well for this procedure,” Thomas said. “It’s important to me for families to know if the child visits me early enough, if the problem is noticed by mom and dad and they come straight to health:latch, that the procedure is done without any sort of anesthesia.”
Thomas said he’s seen a child as young as three days old.
Prior to starting health:latch, Thomas traveled across the country studying dentists, naturopaths, oral surgeons and oral laryngologists and learned that releasing infant tongue and lip tethers has been done for ages.
“Even way, way, way back when mid-wives would actually birth the babies, they had a nail on their pinkie that was kind of a sickle-like nail and they actually used to go under the tongue and clip the tongue,” Thomas said. “And then, fast forward to now, there are pediatricians and dentists that do this procedure with scissors.”
Before Thomas’ laser procedure takes place, however, he strongly urges parents to see a lactation consultant. Health:latch currently employs an international board certified lactation consultant who discusses a mother’s symptoms and co-diagnoses with Thomas before further treatment.
Thomas said while it’s typical for babies to lose weight after birth, those with tongue or lip tie lose weight at a quicker rate and then remain at that stagnant, low weight. A lip tie, he said, prevents a baby from sealing on the breast and can make an infant swallow air, which could lead to reflux or gerd. A tongue tie prevents the baby from creating pressure on the breast to release milk, so they often end up biting their mother or relying on letdown milk.
“There’s recurring themes the moms will use,” he said. “Baby feels like she’s a full-time job. ‘I’m having to feed all day long. I feed 20 times a day.’ Some of the scenarios are they’re taking in nutrients and then they’re spitting half of it up.”
Thomas said he’s finding that if the breast isn’t properly in the mouth, that mid-face cranial facial formation is different and babies can develop a bubble palette or bulging palette that goes into their nose or nasal cavity. Bulging palettes can often lead to difficulty breathing and sleeping.
“Those kids have trouble breathing through their nose because, traditionally, we seal our lips at night to sleep and we breath through our nose,” he said. “Part of us getting into our deep sleep is when there’s actually carbon dioxide that’s produced in the nose that stimulates the vagus nerve, which puts us into deep sleep.”
And children who breath through their mouth and don’t get enough sleep could be subject to a multitude of ear, nose and throat problems. But Thomas’ simple procedure, which takes about two minutes, could change the course of that infant’s health as they grow into a child, he said.
Thomas estimates there’s a handful of individuals across the country doing what he’s doing with the health:latch clinic despite hundreds who are able to do the procedures.
“I felt like while seeing 85 kids, I couldn’t give mom the appointment that she needed to be able to have the comfort and the time she needed,” Thomas said of his time at his previous practice. “So, that’s why I opened health:latch.”
For more information or to schedule an appointment, call 425-310-8430 or visit healthlatch.com.