Posted by Dr. Julie Boudreault On 17-05-2022
Have you recently been told that your child is tongue-tied? Or, have you learned that your own dental issues are caused by ankyloglossia? If this is the case, you’ve likely been recommended a frenectomy.
Babies and children with tongue-tie encounter a range of issues from difficulty breastfeeding to speech development issues. If left untreated, tongue-tied adults face serious dental complications. In light of these consequences, your dentist will recommend a frenectomy following a tongue-tie diagnosis. However, what exactly is a frenectomy, and is it worth it?
What is a frenectomy?
The purpose of a frenectomy is to correct ankyloglossia, which is commonly known as tongue-tie. This condition occurs when the lingual frenulum, which connects the underside of the tongue to the floor of the mouth, limits the tongue’s movement. If the frenulum is abnormally short or attached at the wrong point, it prevents the tongue from functioning normally. In turn, this reduced range of motion can lead to potentially severe health and development consequences.
There is a similar condition called lip-tie. In this case, the issue lies with the labial frenulum that attaches the upper lips to gums above the front teeth. If this frenulum is too large or too tight, it can also lead to a variety of problems.
A frenectomy is when the lingual or labial frenulum is cut, thereby freeing the tongue or upper lip and allowing full movement.
How is a frenectomy done?
Historically, frenectomies have been done with a steel scalpel, surgical scissors, or cauterising instrument. At Milltown Dental, Dr. Julie uses a soft tissue laser to perform frenectomies. A laser is advantageous over other cutting methods for several reasons, including the following:
- Laser frenectomies are quick. The whole procedure lasts less than 15 minutes.
- Newborns do not need anaesthesia for a laser frenectomy. However, children and adults will likely need a local anaesthetic.
- Parents can hold their baby during the procedure, which helps to keep the infant feeling calm.
- The laser cauterises during surgery, so bleeding is very rare. This also reduces the likelihood of infection and means there is no need for sutures.
- There is very little discomfort or pain with most laser frenectomies. The healing time is very short, especially with newborns. In fact, newborns can begin nursing immediately following the procedure with little to no post-op pain. Comparatively, adults will need a few days to heal and some post-op pain is common.
When is the best time for a frenectomy?
The earlier, the better. Infants heal quickly and are often unbothered by the procedure. Some babies even sleep through their laser frenectomy! Additionally, correcting the condition early fixes or prevents many of the complications associated with tongue-tie. Children can develop normally without the speech impediments and dental health issues frequently caused by tongue-tie.
That being said, tongue-tie surgery can be done at any time. Individuals who learn that they are tongue-tied later in adulthood can still opt for a laser frenectomy and reap the benefits.
What are the risks?
A frenectomy is a very safe procedure. Complications can occur, but they are rare. Here are a few potential complications to be mindful of:
- Temporary tongue numbness or soreness.
- Some newborns may struggle to feed. Babies must learn a new way of nursing post-tongue-tie surgery, and some need longer than others to master this new skill.
- Development of scar tissue. However, this is very rare.
Benefits of a Frenectomy for Infants
Tongue-tied infants often struggle to breastfeed. Their tongue’s limited range of motion prevents them from nursing normally, making it difficult to latch on and swallow. Consequently, tongue-tied babies fail to get enough milk during feeding. This can impact their growth, weight gain, sleeping habits, and temperament.
Additionally, the tongue-tie can make nursing painful for the mother. In order to compensate for their tongue’s reduced range of motion, tongue-tied babies use atypical movements when trying to nurse. As a result, the mother may experience discomfort, cracked nipples, nipple damage, mastitis, or even breast infections.
Infants with tongue-tie or lip-tie may also encounter early tooth decay. After feeding, milk can get trapped around the gums, causing the baby teeth to rot. Tongue-tie and lip-tie can also cause the gums to recede. When the frenulum is too tight, it actually pulls the gums away from the teeth. This makes their teeth appear larger, and makes them vulnerable to tooth decay and gum disease.
Benefits of a Frenectomy for Children
Children with tongue-tie can develop speech impediments. This is because the tongue plays a vital role in the formation of sounds. If the tongue’s movement is limited due to tongue-tie, the child struggles to pronounce words properly. Lip-tie also impacts speech since it affects the movement of the upper lip.
Tongue-tie and lip-tie can lead to other dental complications in childhood. Their gums may continue to pull away from their teeth, thus causing cavities. Additionally, these conditions can lead to serious issues with palatal development and tooth spacing.
To compensate for their restricted tongue, tongue-tied children can have an atypical swallowing pattern so they don’t choke or gag. However, tongue-tied children do have a heightened risk of choking. This results in the development of an abnormally strong gag reflex.
Benefits of a Frenectomy for Adults
There are long-term consequences for an untreated tongue-tie condition. Adults with tongue-tie can experience jaw pain, migraines, jaw clicking, and speech impediments. Their jaws may have changed position in an attempt to make speech easier. Furthermore, they may encounter other dental problems such as gum disease, persistent cavities, and multiple tooth extractions.
A frenectomy frees the tongue and lip, thus allowing the mouth to function normally. Post-frenectomy, adults typically report reduced jaw pain, better sleep, no palate discomfort, and improved speech.
Talk to Your Dentist About a Frenectomy
If you or your child are tongue-tied, a frenectomy can profoundly improve your quality of life. Untreated tongue-tie often leads to a variety of health complications, ranging from mild to very serious. Babies struggle to nurse and get adequate nutrition. Children face speech impediments and development issues. Adults encounter pain and serious dental problems.
With a quick 15-minute laser frenectomy, these complications are avoided. The procedure is perfectly safe and the benefits are huge. To inquire about a laser frenectomy, Milton residents should contact Dr. Julie at Milltown Dental.