Problem-Solving: Young Infant with Mandibular Hypoplasia and Glossoptosis


I have an infant (2-week-old) coming in for a feeding eval next week (mother reported difficulty latching on breast and bottle, feeds last 30-40 min, infant not gaining back birth weight), referred by ENT, script says micrognathia and glossoptosis. I did a quick research scan and didn’t find a lot regarding micrognathia besides osteogenesis. Open to suggestions or any research articles you can point me to regarding this topic… who to refer to? any other treatment you’d recommend?


This clinical presentation in infants can be quite complex. Sucking, swallowing and the swallow-breathe interface can all be affected, as can overall postural control and sensory-motor learning. Once you see the infant, can begin your differential about what relevant areas are impacting swallow function, and what other consults or diagnostics might be helpful.

Good that you already have an ENT involved who has evaluated the infant and provided impressions. Do you know if there was a flexible scope done as part of the ENT consult? You may want to check, as that will also be helpful to better understand the functional dynamics of the base of tongue on this infant’s swallow. Due to the glossoptosis, you will likely hear inspiratory stridor created by intermittent obstruction of the base of the tongue against the posterior pharyngeal wall. This can interfere with swallow-breathe interface and alter swallowing physiology. An elevated swaddled sidelying position will help to utilize the effects of gravity to help bring the mandible forward. An instrumental assessment of swallowing physiology will likely be a part of your differential, as there is often altered oral and pharyngeal phase physiology that creates risk for both silent and symptomatic airway invasion with this clinical presentation.

It is also likely that there may be associated tethered oral tissues, as the timing of developmental emergence of structures in utero predisposes these correlations. As mentioned already, the tethering, if it is present, can actually help the infant to compensate for the glossoptotic forces and therefore help keep the tongue from falling farther into the hypopharynx.  This reminds us of how important it is to not “signal react” to one aberration (e.g., tongue tie) , without considering its dynamic influence on the big picture, i.e., releasing the tethering would cause more problems, given this infant’s co-morbidities. So, compensating for the adverse impact of possible tethering on the suck may be a focus. The infant may have a “compression-only” sucking pattern r/t the glossoptosis in and of itself, as it often leads to a thickened and bunched lingual body (intrinsic and extrinsic tongue muscles often don’t develop properly in the setting of this malformation). The altered lingual control can affect not only establishment of suction but also oral bolus control, and cause “problems down the line” (i.e., with pharyngeal function). The Dr. Brown’s nipple with specialty valve may work but sometimes the tongue may be too far back in the mouth to even permit an effective latch with that system. An option would be the Haberman, but without any squeezing of the teat; increasing flow rate would be contraindicated with this clinical presentation, as it would increase bolus size and adversely affect bolus control and airway protection

Co-regulated pacing and resting will be essential, as the infant’s WOB (work of breathing) will be increased. Breathing is typically adversely affected by challenges with airway maintenance created by the need for further retraction of the tongue base that is part of the swallow process. For this infant, that will make it difficult for the infant to maintain the airway as it reconfigures from a respiratory tract to an alimentary retract dynamically during feeding.

Mother will likely need your support to focus on infant-guided feeding (versus volume), learning about what the infant’s behaviors during feeding mean (what infant is trying to communicate), waiting for the infant to root (that suggests he is then, at that moment, better managing his airway and is ready to suck), and thoughtfully and contingently offering interventions to optimize safety.

This wonderful paper by my friend and colleague Laura Brooks at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta provides valued additional insights for my rationale to consider a swallow study to objectify physiology, given this infant’s co-morbidities:

Brooks, L., Evans, S., Alfonso, K. et al. The Role of Dysphagia Assessment in the Identification of Upper Airway Obstruction in Infants. Dysphagia (2022).

This pathophysiology Laura describes is not uncommon when an infant presents with these challenges. The alterations along the swallow pathway created by glossoptosis may be part of the reason for poor intake. Perhaps the infant is trying to protect his airway when he purposefully disengages during feeding. I appreciate Laura’s adding to our evidence base and reinforcing that “co-morbidities matter,” as I always like to say.

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