How to Identify and Treat a Lip Tie

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Learning how to breastfeed takes time and practice. If you and your baby are facing challenges, you may want to rule out whether or not a lip tie is to blame. Global Pediatric Health notes that lip ties occur when the frenulum (the soft tissue that attaches the upper lip to the upper gum) interferes with feeding.

While mild lip ties are common and don't pose any health concern, reports the Archives of Craniofacial Surgery, severe cases can pose problems like difficulty breastfeeding, speech problems and cavities. How can you recognize a lip tie and what treatment can correct it?

Lip Ties and Latching

Every person has a piece of tissue called the superior labial frenulum attaching their upper lip and gum. Just like a tongue tie, a frenulum that is too closely attached can prevent a baby from latching to a breast or bottle. When a baby does take in milk, it can pool around the gums and upper teeth and cause tooth decay, explains the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA).

Oral Health Case Reports notes that a common side effect of poor latching is gassiness or fussiness from swallowing too much air. If your infant seems to be showing signs of colic or acid reflux, those signs could actually point to a lip tie. Other signs of a possible frenulum problem include:

  • Prolonged and poor feeding
  • Flattened nipples
  • Latching on and off during feeding
  • Lip blisters

Diagnosing Lip Ties

A lip tie can often go undetected since your infant's first exam may not include an examination of the upper lip or frenulum, notes ASHA. As a result, the symptoms of lip ties can be mistaken for acid reflux or colic. If you're concerned that your infant has a digestive issue, ask your healthcare provider to check your baby for a lip tie, as well. A pediatrician, pediatric dentist or lactation specialist will be able to diagnose if there is a problem.

The first visit will likely entail a comprehensive exam of your infant's mouth. Your pediatrician will typically inspect your child's lips, cheeks, lip and tongue attachments and palate. They may also ask to watch your child latch and suck.

Sometimes, a mild tie will correct itself as a baby grows. If a severe tie is not addressed early on, however, difficulty feeding can hinder a baby's weight gain and nutritional intake. According to the American Academy of Pediatric Dentists, lip ties may interfere with oral hygiene upkeep or lead to tooth decay and periodontal disease in severe cases.

Treatment

If a lip tie is making it difficult for your baby to eat, your provider may recommend surgery to correct the tie. An oral surgeon can perform the procedure, known as a frenectomy, either surgically or with laser treatment.

The procedure generally takes just a few minutes to complete. Your doctor will use a local anesthetic to numb the area and then cut the frenulum with a scalpel or laser. Many offices offer laser surgery for younger children since lasers are minimally invasive and cause less pain during and after the treatment. They also lessen the chance of infections and scarring, notes the International Journal of Clinical Pediatric Dentistry.

Your doctor may recommend skin-to-skin feeding directly after laser surgery. At home, you can soothe the area with ice and analgesics if necessary. You'll likely to see improvement in breastfeeding or bottle feeding in one week to one month after surgery and a healthier, happier baby overall.

This article is intended to promote understanding of and knowledge about general oral health topics. It is not intended to be a substitute for professional advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always seek the advice of your dentist or other qualified healthcare provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition or treatment.

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