Tongue-tie (ankyloglossia) is a birth defect in which the tissue that attaches the tongue to the bottom of the mouth (lingual frenulum) is abnormally short. This condition may interfere with a child's eating, speech development, and social interaction.

Many babies with tongue-tie do not have symptoms. The lingual frenulum stretches as the child grows or adapts to the tongue restriction. However, some children with tongue-tie have:

  • Difficulty latching on to the mother's breast and sucking because the tongue cannot move milk from the milk glands of the breast to the nipple. Bottle-fed babies usually do not have feeding problems because it is easy to get milk from the nipple of a bottle.
  • Speech problems because the tip of the tongue cannot rise high enough to make (articulate) some sounds clearly, such as t, d, z, s, th, n, and l.
  • Personal or social problems related to the restricted tongue movement. The restricted tongue can make it difficult for a child to play a wind instrument or to clean food off the teeth with the tongue. A child with tongue-tie may be ridiculed by his or her peers.

Many children with tongue-tie adapt to the tongue restriction or their lingual frenulum stretches as they grow. Surgery may be needed if a child has significant problems caused by the tongue restriction.

Last Updated: August 20, 2009

Author: Debby Golonka, MPH

Medical Review: Michael J. Sexton, MD - Pediatrics & Thomas Emmett Francoeur, MDCM, CSPQ, FRCPC - Pediatrics

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