Tongue-tie: Does my baby have it?

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Tongue-tie: Does my baby have it?

Question

What is tongue-tie and how can I tell if my baby has it?

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Answer

Tongue-tie, also called ankyloglossia, is a condition that restricts the tongue's range of motion. It often runs in families.

Signs and symptoms of tongue-tie include:

  • An abnormally short membrane (frenulum) tethering the bottom of the tongue's tip to the floor of the mouth
  • Difficulty lifting the tongue to the upper teeth or moving the tongue from side to side
  • Trouble sticking out the tongue more than 1 to 2 millimeters (0.04 to 0.08 inches) past the lower front teeth
  • A tongue that appears notched or heart shaped when stuck out

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 cause breast-feeding problems, such as poor latch and nipple pain. Breast-feeding requires a baby to keep his or her tongue over the lower gum while sucking. If a baby is unable to move or keep his or her tongue in the right position, he or she may chew instead of suck on the nipple. Tongue-tie can also make it difficult for an older child to sweep food debris from his or her teeth, lick an ice cream cone or kiss.

Mild cases of tongue-tie may not require treatment. If necessary, however, tongue-tie can be treated with a simple surgical procedure called a frenotomy. During a frenotomy, the doctor uses scissors to snip the frenulum — with or without local anesthesia. Discomfort and bleeding are typically minimal, and after the procedure a baby can immediately try breast-feeding again. Rare side effects include infection, ulceration, damage to the tongue or salivary glands, and recurrence of the problem.

If your baby is having trouble breast-feeding or you notice any signs or symptoms of tongue-tie, talk to your baby's doctor. Some doctors recommend correcting the problem immediately, while others prefer to take a wait-and-see approach.

Last Updated: 2010-04-01
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