By: Mel Hendrickson, BSN, RN, Director of Health Services, Penfield Children’s Center

Tongue-tie, or ankyloglossia, is a condition present at birth when a tight tissue band under the baby’s tongue restricts the tongue’s movement. It can affect the way a baby eats and swallows.

Tongue-tie does not always result in problems for the child, but sometimes a small surgical procedure is done to get rid of the tongue-tie, especially if the child is having difficulty eating.

How do I know if my baby has tongue-tie?
When a baby has tongue-tie, he might have a difficult time lifting his tongue and moving it from one side to the other. His tongue might also look heart-shaped when it sticks out. Your child’s nurse or pediatrician will be able to determine if your baby has tongue-tie.

What causes tongue-tie?
While some cases of tongue-tie have been linked to genetics, oftentimes, the cause is unknown. Most of the time, the band, called the “lingual frenulum” under the baby’s tongue separates before the baby is born. With baby’s who have tongue-tie, the lingual frenulum remains attached to the tongue. This condition is most common in boys, although girls can be born with tongue-tie as well.

Are there risks associated with tongue-tie?
Tongue-tie is not a serious condition, but it can affect the way a baby eats and eventually speaks. Some complications of this condition include:

  • Issues with breastfeeding: In order to breastfeed, a baby’s tongue must stay over his bottom gum to suck. If the baby has tongue-tie, his tongue’s movement can be restricted, causing him to chew on the nipple instead of suck. This can interfere with the baby’s ability to get milk and can also be quite painful for the mother. Because of this, the baby might not get the nutrition he needs to grow and thrive.
  • As your child gets older, tongue-tie can interfere with dental hygiene as the tongue cannot sweep food from his teeth properly. Over time, this can lead to gingivitis and tooth decay. Some children with tongue-tie have also developed a gap between the front bottom teeth.
  • Speech issues: Tongue-tie can affect the way your child speaks by making it difficult to pronounce the “t,” “d,” “s,” and “th” sounds.

Tongue-tie can also interfere with your child’s ability to complete actions such as licking an ice cream cone or playing an instrument.

If you suspect your child has tongue-tie, speak with his pediatrician. He/she will be able to evaluate your child and if he does have the condition, discuss treatment options.

Has your baby experienced tongue-tie?


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