What Parents Should Know About Tongue and Lip Ties in Babies

When most people hear the term “tongue-tied,” they think of someone who can’t find the right words to say. What you may not realize, though, is that a tongue-tie (or a lip tie) is a medical condition that can affect everything from how well an infant eats, to achieving proper oral hygiene later in life. Fortunately, doctors typically diagnose a tongue and lip tie in a baby before it becomes a more serious problem.

At Newtown Dentistry, our pediatric dentist, Dr. Christine Landes, has experience diagnosing and treating tongue and lip ties in babies and toddlers. We offer a safe, minimally-invasive treatment for lip and tongue ties right in the office, eliminating the possibility of any future problems related to the condition.

What is a Tongue or Lip Tie?

 A young boy is examined for a tongue tie by the dentist.

Before discussing the treatment options for a tongue and lip tie in a baby or toddler, it’s helpful to explain the conditions.

Tongue Tie

Tongue-tie, or ankyloglossia, means that the tongue’s range of motion is limited by a thick band of tissue (called a lingual frenulum) underneath the tongue. This band of tissue connects the tongue to the bottom of the mouth more than is necessary. Since tongue-tie tends to run in families, it’s possible the condition has genetic factors.

Being tongue-tied affects the movement of the tongue which can prevent a child from latching on properly to breastfeed. In older children, being tongue-tied can affect speech. Often, the first sign of being tongue-tied is breastfeeding issues. Other symptoms of tongue-ties include:

  • A tongue that appears notched or heart-shaped when it’s extended.
  • An inability to stick out the tongue.
  • Difficulty or inability to lift the tongue or move it from side to side.

Lip Tie

 Mother smiles as she holds her newborn baby.

A lip-tie is similar to a tongue tie, but occurs on the top lip. When the membrane behind the lip that connects it to the upper gums (called the labial frenulum) is too thick or rigid, it can prevent the upper lip from moving. Basically everyone has a frenulum that attaches the upper lip to the gums, but it only becomes a lip tie when it prevents lip movement.

Breastfeeding issues and difficulty gaining weight are the most common sign of lip-ties in babies. Infants may struggle to latch on, get tired or fall asleep during feedings, have trouble breathing while nursing, or make unusual clicking sounds. The condition can also cause problems for nursing mothers, including pain, breasts that feel engorged even after nursing, and blocked milk ducts or mastitis.

It’s important to note that even with a tongue and lip tie, a baby can thrive without any sign of difficulty. In fact, there are plenty of older children and even adults who have a minor tongue tie or frenulum. When the condition begins to affect your child’s health though, treatment is needed.

Complications Related to Tongue and Lip Ties

Breastfeeding issues are not only a sign of a tied tongue or lip, but also a complication. When your baby can’t latch on to the breast, they may chew on the nipple instead, causing pain and disruption to milk flow. When this happens, your baby may struggle to gain weight and develop failure to thrive.

Other potential problems associated with tongue and lip ties include:

  • Difficulty eating from a spoon or with their fingers.
  • Difficulty licking ice cream cones or other foods.
  • Inability to lick their lips.
  • Speech difficulties, in particular making the “t”,”d”, “z”, “s”, “th”, “r” and “i” sounds.
  • A gap forming between the two bottom teeth.
  • Poor oral hygiene, caused by the inability to clean teeth thoroughly.

For these reasons, parents should talk to their pediatrician or pediatric dentist about tongue and lip tie treatment.

How Dentists Treat Tongue and Lip Ties

Sometimes, pediatricians will see a tongue or lip tie in a baby soon after birth and surgically release it before the infant even leaves the hospital. This procedure, called a frenotomy, ensures that the infant can breastfeed from the start.

However, newborn frenectomies are not common. It’s more likely that your baby will need a frenuloplasty. Frenuloplasty procedures are performed when the lingual frenulum is too thick to be snipped. They may be done under general anesthesia using surgical tools — which requires stitches and increases the risk of infection or scarring. The other option is tongue or lip tie laser surgery.

The Newtown Dentistry Approach

At Newtown Dentistry, we perform tongue and lip tie releases using the LightScalpel CO2 laser. This is a minimally invasive procedure that doesn’t require general anesthesia and has little risk of side effects. Rather than cut the tissue, the laser vaporizes it, causing little to no bleeding and minimal swelling. The laser also sanitizes the area, meaning there is little risk of infection.

Our minimally invasive approach to tongue and lip tie release is less stressful for little ones and their parents. There is also almost no recovery time— most babies can even breastfeed almost immediately after the procedure.

There is no need to let your baby or toddler’s tongue or lip tie affect their ability to eat, speak, or take care of their teeth. Talk to Dr. Chris at Newtown Dentistry about your options. You can request an appointment here or call (215) 770-3896 with questions.

And for your older children, we have resources to help them stay cavity-free, too. Download our helpful complimentary eBook “Cavity Free is the Way to Be! (How to Prevent Dental Decay 101)for helpful tips on how to detect, prevent, and treat cavities while maintaining healthy teeth.

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