BEING “TONGUE-TIED” is a common expression in the English language, but it’s also a real medical condition. Being lip-tied is another, and both are caused by thin pieces of tissue called frenula. One frenulum connects the upper lip to the upper gums, and another connects the tongue to the floor of the mouth. We have other frenula, but these are the two we’re going to focus on.
For most people, these frenula are thin and very stretchy, allowing plenty of mobility for the lips and tongue. This is important, because it lets us talk, chew, and swallow normally. Sometimes, however, the upper lip or tongue frenulum is unusually thick or tight, restricting movement. This is what we call a tongue tie or a lip tie. Tongue ties can make it impossible to lift the tongue to touch the roof of the mouth, which creates significant difficulties for pronouncing words and being able to properly chew and swallow food. Lip ties can cause a large gap between the upper front teeth, increase the risk of gum recession, and even prevent an infant from latching effectively while breastfeeding.
There is an easy solution to the problems of lip and tongue ties: a simple surgery called a frenectomy, which removes or reduces an abnormal frenulum. The procedure is definitely worth considering in cases of restricted lip or tongue movement, especially if it’s causing discomfort or pain. A frenectomy can be done quickly and the recovery time is short. Typically, they are performed by periodontists and oral surgeons. The doctor numbs the area and makes a small incision in the frenulum in question in order to make it smaller or simply remove it. Sometimes the doctor uses laser surgery to remove it, which shortens recovery time and reduces the (already small) risk of complications. Be sure to follow any post-operation instructions carefully to ensure the best results and quickest recovery.
Most of us will never have to think about our frenula because they are thin and elastic enough never to be in the way, but if you think yours or your child’s might be unusual and causing difficulties, schedule a dental appointment to find out. The dentist can take a look and determine if a frenectomy is necessary and recommend the best next steps.