Tongue-tie (ankyloglossia) is a condition present at birth that restricts the tongue's range of motion.
With tongue-tie, an unusually short, thick or tight band of tissue (lingual frenulum) tethers the bottom of the tongue's tip to the floor of the mouth, so it may interfere with breast-feeding. Someone who has tongue-tie might have difficulty sticking out his or her tongue. Tongue-tie can also affect the way a child eats, speaks and swallows.
Sometimes tongue-tie may not cause problems. Some cases may require a simple surgical procedure for correction.
Signs and symptoms of tongue-tie include:
- Difficulty lifting the tongue to the upper teeth or moving the tongue from side to side
- Trouble sticking out the tongue past the lower front teeth
- A tongue that appears notched or heart shaped when stuck out
When to see a doctor
See a doctor if:
- Your baby has signs of tongue-tie that cause problems, such as having trouble breast-feeding
- A speech-language pathologist thinks your child's speech is affected by tongue-tie
- Your older child complains of tongue problems that interfere with eating, speaking or reaching the back teeth
- You're bothered by your own symptoms of tongue-tie
Typically, the lingual frenulum separates before birth, allowing the tongue free range of motion. With tongue-tie, the lingual frenulum remains attached to the bottom of the tongue. Why this happens is largely unknown, although some cases of tongue-tie have been associated with certain genetic factors.
Although tongue-tie can affect anyone, it's more common in boys than girls. Tongue-tie sometimes runs in families.
Tongue-tie can affect a baby's oral development, as well as the way he or she eats, speaks and swallows.
For example, tongue-tie can lead to:
- Breast-feeding problems. Breast-feeding requires a baby to keep his or her tongue over the lower gum while sucking. If unable to move the tongue or keep it in the right position, the baby might chew instead of suck on the nipple. This can cause significant nipple pain and interfere with a baby's ability to get breast milk. Ultimately, poor breast-feeding can lead to inadequate nutrition and failure to thrive.
- Speech difficulties. Tongue-tie can interfere with the ability to make certain sounds — such as "t," "d," "z," "s," "th," "r" and "l."
- Poor oral hygiene. For an older child or adult, tongue-tie can make it difficult to sweep food debris from the teeth. This can contribute to tooth decay and inflammation of the gums (gingivitis). Tongue-tie can also lead to the formation of a gap or space between the two bottom front teeth.
- Challenges with other oral activities. Tongue-tie can interfere with activities such as licking an ice cream cone, licking the lips, kissing or playing a wind instrument.
May 15, 2018
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- Isaacson GC. Ankyloglossia (tongue-tie) in infants and children. https://www.uptodate.com/contents/search. Accessed Feb. 14, 2018.
- Chinnadurai S, et al. Treatment of ankyloglossia for reasons other than breastfeeding: A systemic review. Pediatrics. 2015;135:e1467.
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- Walsh J, et al. Diagnosis and treatment of ankyloglossia in newborns and infants. JAMA Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery. 2017;143:1032.
- O'Shea JE, et al. Frenotomy for tongue-tie in newborn infants. Cochrane Database of Systemic Reviews. http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/14651858.CD011065.pub2/abstract. Accessed Feb. 14, 2018.