Lip & Tongue Ties: What to Look for & Why It’s Important

Thank you to Dr. Trey of ICTeeth Pediatric Dentistry for sharing his knowledge on tongue and lip ties!

Does it feel like your newborn is “biting” rather than sucking during breastfeeding, making it painful? Does your toddler gag even when eating foods they love? Does your older child have a lisp or unusual staining/decay on their top front teeth? You might be dealing with a lip tie or tongue tie!

These ties are not always caught when babies are born and can lead to trouble breastfeeding, swallowing, speaking, and in some cases, tooth decay. How can you tell if your baby or child has a tie? And what should you do if you suspect they need further assessment? Here’s some expert advice from a pediatric dentist:

What are lip and tongue ties? 

The lip tie and tongue tie are naturally occurring anatomical structures that all of us have from birth. There are different names used for each; the lip tie is known as the maxillary frenum and the tongue tie is known as the lingual frenum or, technically, ankyloglossia. These structures are cords of tissue that attach the lip to the gum line (labial frenum) and the tongue to the floor of the mouth (lingual frenum). They become “ties “when the cords of tissue are “too tight” and obstruct certain functions of the mouth such as feeding, speech or other activities.

How do I know if my child has a tongue or lip tie?

Well, everyone has a labial frenum and a lingual frenum including you! Just because they are there does not mean there is a problem. Understanding if your child has a tongue tie or lip tie requires an assessment by a trained provider which can be a pediatrician, a dentist, a lactation specialist, and/or a speech therapist. He/She will determine if the tissue “looks” like a tie and will also assess the function of the lip or the tongue.

Typically, for lip ties the provider will lift the upper lip to see where the cords of tissue attach on the child’s gum and to see if the location of the attachment prevents movement of the upper lip. Similarly for tongue ties, the provider will lift the child’s tongue to examine the attachment and tongue movements. For example, they will look to see not just how far the tongue can stick out but how well the tongue can move in different directions. This is called a functional assessment. 

Is it necessary to correct a tongue or lip tie?

No! It is optional based on what type of struggle you are finding in your child, but definitely not always necessary. A fitting example is my 2-week-old daughter, Atlas. From appearance alone, she seems to have a minor lip and tongue tie. After examining the function of her lip and tongue though, by yours truly, I see that her tissues are elastic enough to move well and functionally is latching well during her feedings. 

How do you go about correcting, and what is the recovery like? 

The procedures used to correct a tongue and lip tie differs amongst practitioners. At ICTeeth we use a C02 laser to remove the “tie” and vaporize the tissue. We prefer the laser since it helps minimize bleeding at the time, has minimal pain and helps with a strong healing process. The use of local anesthesia or numbing can be used but varies usually by child. 

The recovery process starts with having infants feed directly after to allow the breast milk to provide its amazing healing properties. Typically, children do not have much discomfort, but you may use Tylenol or Ibuprofen afterwards to help. We always recommend follow up with prescribed post treatment exercises and a follow-up with your lactation consultant or other practitioner.

If you think your child might have a tongue or lip tie, contact ICTeeth
at 316-681 for an appointment!

Dr. Trey Anderson, DDS. | Board Certified Pediatric Dentist
After completing his undergrad at the University of Kansas, Dr. Anderson went on to complete his education at the University of Missouri Kansas City Dental School with a residency at the University of Nebraska Medical Center Pediatric Dentistry.

Thank you to ICTeeth for sponsoring this article and for providing pediatric dental care for Wichita families.
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