DID YOU KNOW that it is possible to be tongue-tied in a medical sense? That’s right, it’s not just an expression. Lip ties and tongue ties are what we call it when the thin pieces of tissue that connect the upper lip to the gums and the tongue to the floor of the mouth are thicker and tighter than usual. These pieces of tissue are called frenula (frenum singular).
A normal frenum is supposed to be thin and highly elastic. This allows free mobility of the lips and tongue, which we need in order to chew, swallow, and talk normally. When the frenum under the tongue is too restrictive, it makes it harder to pronounce words correctly or chew effectively. Some people with tongue ties can’t even touch their tongues to the roofs of their mouths! They also can’t use their tongues to clean pieces of stuck food away. A lip tie affects the frenum between the upper lip and the gums. Infants with lip ties may not be able to effectively latch when breastfeeding, and it can cause a large gap between the front teeth when they grow in as well as increasing the risk of gum recession.
Fortunately lip and tongue ties are easy to correct, thanks to a simple surgery called frenectomy. A frenectomy removes or reduces the abnormal frenum. It can be done quickly and there isn’t a long recovery period afterward. The doctor simply numbs the area and makes a small incision in the frenulum to release the lip or tongue. One technique to make recovery time even shorter and further reduce the risk of complications is to use laser surgery. This procedure is one worth learning more about if you believe you or your child might have a lip tie or a tongue tie, particularly if it’s causing pain or discomfort, in addition to the complications mentioned above. After the surgery, make sure to follow the doctor’s instructions carefully so that recovery will be as quick and smooth as possible!
Most of us are fortunate enough to have thin, stretchy frenula that don’t get in the way of the movement of our lips and tongue, but if you or your child are having difficulties, a dentist is a good person to see to get a diagnosis. The dentist can then determine whether a frenectomy would be a good solution.