Definition

What is tongue-tie (ankyloglossia)?

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. A person 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, as well as interfere with breast-feeding.

Sometimes tongue-tie may not cause problems. Some cases may require a simple surgical procedure for correction.

How common is tongue-tie (ankyloglossia)?

Tongue-tie affects around 4-11% of newborn babies. It’s more common in boys than girls, and sometimes runs in families. Please discuss with your doctor for further information.

Symptoms

What are the symptoms of tongue-tie (ankyloglossia)?

The common symptoms of tongue-tie (ankyloglossia) are:

  • 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

There may be some symptoms not listed above. If you have any concerns about a symptom, please consult your doctor.

When should I see my doctor?

You should contact your doctor if you have any of the following:

  • 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

Causes

What causes tongue-tie (ankyloglossia)?

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.

Risk factors

What increases my risk for tongue-tie (ankyloglossia)?

Although tongue-tie can affect anyone, it’s more common in boys than girls. Tongue-tie sometimes runs in families.

Diagnosis & treatment

The information provided is not a substitute for any medical advice. ALWAYS consult with your doctor for more information.

How is tongue-tie (ankyloglossia) diagnosed?

Tongue-tie is typically diagnosed during a physical exam. For infants, the doctor might use a screening tool to score various aspects of the tongue’s appearance and ability to move.

How is tongue-tie (ankyloglossia) treated?

Treatment for tongue tie is only necessary if it causes problems for the baby when feeding.

If treatment is required, a doctor can perform a simple operation to cut the frenulum. This is sometimes known as tongue division, or frenulotomy.

A specially trained doctor will snip the piece of skin connecting the underside of the tongue to the bottom of the mouth in a quick, simple, and often painless procedure. The baby may not require any sort of pain relief, as the procedure generally does not seem to cause distress or discomfort.

The procedure releases the tongue and allows it to move more freely. A woman may be advised to encourage her baby to breast-feed immediately after the procedure as it can help calm the infant.

A small amount of bleeding may occur after the procedure. In rare cases, bleeding can be excessive.

Older babies

If the baby is over 6 months old, the procedure will be done using general anesthetic. It may take up to 10 days for the tongue to heal following surgery and the baby may experience some discomfort.

A white patch may also form under the tongue but should heal within 24 to 48 hours after the procedure.

Other treatment options include:

  • Laser surgery: This can be done in 2 to 3 minutes and heal within 2 hours. No anesthetic is required.
  • Electrocautery: This is suitable for mild cases of tongue tie and can be done using local anesthetic.

Tongue tie in older children and adults

Untreated tongue tie can cause problems for children and adults because of the tightness that may occur as the mouth develops. However, for infants who have had no difficulty feeding, tongue tie may not cause any symptoms as they get older.

If there is a limited range of motion in the tongue, it may cause speech problems and issues when a person eats certain types of food.

Older children and adults can still undergo surgery to treat tongue tie, but it will usually require general anesthetic and stitches. Speech therapy may also be recommended in some cases, following tongue tie surgery in older children and adults.

Lifestyle changes & home remedies

What are some lifestyle changes or home remedies that can help me manage tongue-tie (ankyloglossia)?

Please discuss with your doctor for further information.

If you have any questions, please consult with your doctor to better understand the best solution for you.

Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.

Review Date: January 4, 2018 | Last Modified: January 4, 2018

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