The lips represent a very complex group of muscles that are essential for oral function. Because of this, malformations in the lips can lead to speech, dental, and feeding problems that can worsen with age. A type of malformation called the lip tie is gaining attention among breastfeeding circles and medical professionals today. We answer the most important FAQs about lip tie in the article below.
What is the difference between a normal labial frenulum and a lip tie?
As babies develop in the womb, a strong cord of tissue positioned in the center of the mouth (called the labial frenum) guides mouth structures as they develop. Over time, this tissue is supposed to thin out and recede. You can touch and see this if you look under your lip.
According to Essential Baby, the problem happens when the frenum fails to recede or is especially tight. This is called a lip tie and it prevents the upper lip from curling and moving normally. This mobility issue causes all sorts of developmental issues after the baby is born.
There is no known cause for lip tie, though evidence suggests a hereditary component. Since it forms in the womb, lip tie is congenital and will not develop once the baby is born.
I’ve never heard of lip tie before this. Why?
The American Speech-Language-Hearing Association explains that decades ago, lip ties and a related condition called tongue tie were routinely snipped during an infant’s first few days of life. Since a lip tie can cause breastfeeding problems and failure to thrive, midwives and pediatricians would correct it as soon as possible.
The rise of bottle feeding caused the practice of lip tie release to fade into obscurity. Suddenly, breastfeeding was not the only way to feed babies anymore, and releasing lip ties ceased to be a matter of survival.
Awareness of lip-tie diagnosis and treatment may be at an all-time low, but its consequences are still as real as ever. In fact, parents and doctors alike are starting to recognize lip ties as a possible cause of many feeding, dental, and speech issues. Thanks to new studies and research, we’re learning more about lip tie and what can be done about it.
What are the effects of a lip tie?
Since the lips are so important for mouth function, they impact a lot of developmental processes. Symptoms of lip tie vary with age. Healthline lists some top warning signs of lip tie:
- Weak or unsuccessful latch
- Fatigue, fussiness, and irritability while nursing
- Failure to gain weight
- Clicking noises and gumming or chewing the breast
- Pain and discomfort for both the mother and baby during breastfeeding
- Tooth decay
- Speech delays
- Development of feeding issues such as food and texture aversions
- Excessive drooling
- Digestive issues due to inability to chew food properly
- Mouth breathing
- Sleep problems
- Neck, jaw, and shoulder pain
- Periodontal disease
- Anxiety and depression
- Speaking too fast or too slow
- Sleep apnea
- Poor posture
Since these symptoms are also present in many other conditions, it takes a professional with special training and experiences with lip ties to recognize the signs.
How can I tell if I (or someone else) have a lip tie?
To check for lip tie, Parents.com recommends flipping the lip and running a finger gently under the middle part of the upper lip. If you feel a significant bump or ridge, then it’s possible that a lip tie is present. Depending on the severity of the restriction, lip ties can be classified into four classes:
- no significant attachment
- lip tie is located in the gum tissue
- lip tie is located where the middle front teeth will erupt
- lip tie extends into the palate
Once a lip tie is detected, consult a dentist to confirm the diagnosis. Aside from dentists, you’re more likely to get an accurate diagnosis from lactation specialists and ENTs since many pediatricians and doctors still don’t have adequate training about lip ties.
How is a lip tie treated?
Treating lip tie is fairly simple and straightforward. Upon confirming that a person has lip tie, the dentist may suggest a frenectomy. This a procedure that involves cutting or snipping the abnormal frenum to “release” the tie. Frenectomies are traditionally done with surgical scissors or scalpels, but lasers are now increasingly being used as a much more modern alternative.
Lip tie release typically takes less than 10 minutes to complete. Children may be required to be under sedation to prevent them from moving around. Depending on the severity, soluble sutures or stitches may be placed.
Recovering from lip tie surgery is quick, easy, and rarely involves complications. You may have to take painkillers to offset some discomfort, swelling, and soreness, but most patients don’t need this. You can usually eat and drink right after the procedure.
To ensure proper healing and optimal results, make sure to complete all therapy exercises post-op. This will prevent the lip tie from reattaching. Even before the wound is completely healed, however, patients report immediate improvement in sleep and breathing patterns, mood, eating, speech, and more.
Even though leaders in the medical field, such as the American Pediatric Association, already recognize the existence and complications of lip tie, there are still too many doctors, pediatricians, and other professionals who disagree and even refuse to treat it.
A dentist trained in sleep disorders is your best chance at having lip tie diagnosed and released. In the meantime, learning all you can about this problem will help you advocate for you or your child should you find yourself facing this condition.