The hypoglossal nerve enables tongue movement. It controls the hyoglossus, intrinsic, genioglossus and styloglossus muscles. These muscles help you speak, swallow and move substances around in your mouth.
The hypoglossal nerve is one of 12 cranial nerves. It’s also known as the 12th cranial nerve, cranial nerve 12 or CNXII.
This nerve starts at the base of your brain. It travels down your neck and branches out, ending at the base and underside of your tongue.
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It’s a motor nerve that carries signals to and from the brain to control muscle movement.
The hypoglossal nerve controls muscles that move the tongue, enabling you to:
Cranial nerve 12 controls the:
The hypoglossal nerve starts in the base of the brain near the top of the spinal cord (brain stem).
Before reaching the tongue, it:
Conditions affecting this nerve include:
Hypoglossal nerve issues can impact your ability to eat, speak or swallow. Some causes, like trauma and surgical complications, can be difficult to avoid. Seeing an experienced surgeon if you need a mouth or throat procedure may lower your risk.
Taking care of yourself can help you avoid disruption to hypoglossal nerve function. These efforts include:
Call your healthcare provider if you experience issues on one or both sides of your tongue.
These may include:
The hypoglossal nerve helps you move your tongue. It enables you to speak, swallow and push substances around in your mouth. Conditions affecting hypoglossal nerve function include stroke, cancer and ALS. You can protect cranial nerve 12 from some of these conditions by living a healthy lifestyle.
Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 06/04/2021.
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