The effects of tongue-ties and lip-ties on breastfeeding

TongueTieLipTie Blog

You have probably heard of being tongue-tied before, but lip-tied? For many new and expecting parents, both are words you’ll need to be familiar with.

The experts at Smiles in Motion Pediatric Dentistry are here to explain what tongue-ties and lip-ties are and what they could mean for you and your child, especially when it comes to breastfeeding. Just know that if you’re struggling with feeding issues, you’re not alone–and your pediatric dentist may have the solution.

What is a tongue-tie?

A tongue-tie (or ankyloglossia) is when the bottom of your child’s tongue is anchored to the floor of their mouth by a thin membrane called the frenulum. This thin piece of tissue connects their tongue to the bottom of their mouth.

If your little one has tongue-tie, their frenulum may be too short, thick, or stiff. Some tongue-ties are unnoticeable and don’t need treatment, while others range from moderate to severe.

Some signs that your child may have a tongue-tie include:

  • The tip of their tongue looks heart-shaped or square instead of pointed, especially when they try to stick it out
  • They cannot stick their tongue out past their lips
  • The tip of their tongue cannot touch the roof of their mouth

What is a maxillary lip-tie?

A maxillary lip-tie is when the remnant of tissue between your child’s upper lip (also called a frenulum) and their gum is not shaped correctly, interfering with the normal mobility and function of their upper lip. Lip-ties can also interfere with proper teeth cleaning, especially in the upper mouth.

Some signs that your child may have a lip-tie include:

  • A gap or large space between their upper front teeth
  • Extra plaque or built-up decay on their upper front teeth

The impact on your child

We always say that oral health can impact your child’s overall health, and that’s certainly the case with tongue-ties and lip-ties. Before we delve into breastfeeding, let’s explore some of the other ways that a tongue-tie or lip-tie can affect your child’s daily life.

In addition to feeding challenges, a tongue-tie or lip-tie can cause:

  • Speech issues due to limited mobility of the tongue or upper lip
  • Gum recession (when the gum tissue pulls away from teeth)
  • Higher likelihood of tooth decay
  • Gaps or large spaces between teeth
  • Other oral health problems

The impact on breastfeeding

Of course, the greatest impact of tongue-ties and lip-ties revolves around feeding. At Smiles in Motion Pediatric Dentistry, we see many parents who come to us looking for help.

Most babies with a tongue-tie or lip-tie have difficulty sticking their tongue out and cannot properly grasp a nipple in their mouth when they are trying to breastfeed. To compensate, your baby may try to suck harder (cue an “OUCH!” from mom) or may not be able to latch at all. Some babies become so frustrated that they refuse to nurse altogether.

The consequences for moms

Moms of babies with a tongue-tie or lip-tie may experience:

  • Sore, dry, and/or cracked nipples
  • Pain or discomfort while breastfeeding
  • Low or decreased milk supply
  • Blocked milk ducts
  • Nipple thrush
  • Mastitis (inflammation of breast tissue, which can lead to infection)

The consequences for babies

Moms aren’t the only ones who suffer–feeding is not easy for babies with a tongue-tie or lip-tie either. Your child may:

  • Have difficulty latching and staying on the breast
  • Fall asleep while feeding
  • Be a “noisy” eater (often making loud sucking sounds)
  • Have excessive gas or reflux
  • Not gain enough weight
  • The solution

When the above issues are present, your pediatric dentist will examine your child for a tongue-tie, a lip-tie, or both. Many times, a safe and simple procedure called a laser frenectomy can solve the problem. At Smiles in Motion Pediatric Dentistry, we can quickly perform your child’s frenectomy right here in the office.

Your pediatric dentist will use a soft tissue laser to repair the frenulum that is restricting movement in your child’s mouth. All our doctors have extensive frenectomy training and are certified in the use of soft tissue lasers.

There are many benefits of laser frenectomy, including:

  • A soft tissue laser does not cut–it’s more like vaporization of tissue
  • The procedure is quick, with very little pain or bleeding
  • No general anesthesia is necessary (sometimes, even a local anesthetic isn’t needed)
  • Because using a laser minimizes the risk of damage to adjacent tissues, the healing time is faster
  • Stitches or sutures are rarely required
  • Post-op discomfort is limited to a few hours

The timing of your child’s frenectomy procedure is very important. Frenectomies are most commonly performed on young infants to resolve feeding issues, although older children, adolescents, and even adults can also have the procedure.

Schedule an appointment today

Breastfeeding can be hard enough–don’t let your child’s tongue-tie or lip-tie make the early days of parenthood even more stressful. The team at Smiles in Motion Pediatric Dentistry knows how to diagnose and treat tongue-ties and lip-ties, so your child has fewer barriers to healthy eating.

If you suspect that your child may have tongue-tie or lip-tie, bring them in to see us anytime. We’ll take the time to listen to your concerns, examine your child, and discuss your treatment options.

We look forward to meeting you! To schedule an appointment, contact us today.