Medical Definition of Fontanel (fontanelle)

  • Medical Author:
    William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR

    Dr. Shiel received a Bachelor of Science degree with honors from the University of Notre Dame. There he was involved in research in radiation biology and received the Huisking Scholarship. After graduating from St. Louis University School of Medicine, he completed his Internal Medicine residency and Rheumatology fellowship at the University of California, Irvine. He is board-certified in Internal Medicine and Rheumatology.

Reviewed on 12/12/2018

Fontanel (fontanelle): The word fontanel comes from the French fontaine for fountain. The medical term fontanel is a "soft spot" of the skull. The "soft spot" is soft precisely because the cartilage there has not yet hardened into bone between the skull bones. There are normally two fontanels, both in the midline of the skull, one (the anterior fontanel) well in front of the other (the posterior fontanel). The posterior fontanel closes first, at latest by the age of 8 weeks in a full-term baby. The anterior fontanel closes at 18 months of age on the average but it can close normally as early as 9 months. If fontanels close too early or too late, that may be a sign of a problem.

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Reviewed on 12/12/2018