Causes of tongue-tie

Tongue-tie is a congenital condition – this means it’s something a baby is born with.

In most babies, the piece of skin under the tongue separates from the tongue before they’re born. This allows the tongue to move freely. Tongue-tie is when this piece of skin stays attached. We don’t know why this happens in some babies, but it usually isn’t a serious problem.

Tongue-tie can run in families and is more common in boys.

Tongue-tie needing treatment is extremely uncommon. Tongue-tie that doesn’t need treatment can be found in up to 10% of babies.

Signs of tongue-tie

Signs your baby or child might have tongue-tie include:

  • the tip of his tongue looks heart-shaped when his tongue sticks out
  • the tip of his tongue can’t reach the roof of his mouth or past where his lower teeth would be
  • his tongue can’t move sideways
  • he’s not gaining enough weight.

If you’re breastfeeding and your baby has tongue-tie, you might notice that:

  • your baby has trouble attaching or staying attached to your breast
  • your baby makes a clicking sound when feeding
  • your nipples look squashed after feeding and might be sore or damaged.

When to see your doctor about tongue-tie

You should take your child to the GP if you notice any of the signs above or if you’re concerned about tongue-tie. If you’re having trouble with breastfeeding, it’s a very good idea to talk with your child and family health nurse or lactation consultant. These health professionals will check your baby for tongue-tie.

You might see a speech pathologist if you notice problems with your child’s speech. Although it isn’t clear whether tongue-tie can affect your child’s speech development, a speech pathologist might check for signs of tongue-tie.

Your health professional can diagnose tongue-tie by looking at your child’s tongue and mouth and by talking to you about your child’s symptoms.

Treatment for tongue-tie

For some children, tongue-tie isn’t a big problem. As they age the piece of skin loosens itself.

But tongue-tie might not go away and might affect feeding for some children. In this situation, your child can have a procedure called a frenectomy or frenotomy.

A frenectomy involves cutting the fold of skin, using a scissors or laser. For a newborn baby, this is a simple procedure, often done without anaesthetic. Your baby is usually able to feed immediately after the procedure.

If your baby is more than a few months old, doctors will usually use a general anaesthetic to do a frenectomy. This procedure should always be done by an experienced health professional, in case of any complications.

Your health professional will be able to help you decide whether treatment is needed.