Tongue & Lip Ties: Is Surgery Necessary?   

Tongue & Lip Ties: Is Surgery Necessary?

Close up of baby's mouth - concerns for lip or tongue tie
Clinical Contributors to this story:
Michael Chee, M.D.

A baby who is having trouble breastfeeding or a child that is struggling to pronounce certain words may have a condition known as a lip or tongue tie. 

What Is a Tongue or Lip Tie?

A tongue tie—or ankyloglossia—is when the small piece of tissue that connects the tongue to the bottom of the mouth is short or thick. This limits the tongue’s ability to move. 

A lip tie is when the tissue that attaches the upper lip to the gum between the front teeth is too large. 

“There has recently been a significant rise in diagnosis, but this increase is most likely due to more women breastfeeding and an increase in awareness of possible nursing issues,” says pediatric otolaryngologist, Michael Chee, M.D.

What Issues Do Tongue or Lip Tie Cause?

Tongue ties can cause infants to have trouble feeding, which can lead to poor weight gain as well as persistent pain for a breastfeeding mother from cracked or sore nipples. Later in life, children with lip or tongue ties can have speech disorders and gum/dental issues. 

Can Tongue and Lip Ties Be Fixed?

Lip and tongue ties can be surgically altered. But some believe they only need to be treated if they cause issues; others believe in a more proactive approach and think the issue should be taken care of before any problems arise. 

There are two main types of frenotomies:

  • Lingual frenotomy modifies the tissue that connects the tongue to the month.
  • Labial frenotomy removes the tissue that connects the upper lip to the gums.

What to Expect From Surgery

During a frenotomy, the tissue causing the tie is cut; for most infants this procedure is done in the office and usually lasts about five minutes. After the procedure the doctor will review tongue stretching exercises in order to reduce the incidence of reattachment. Some conditions are more complicated and require intervention in the operating room. The doctor will schedule a follow-up visit after a few weeks.

Patients usually do not need pain relievers afterwards.  Patients can return to their normal daily routines after about a day. If the procedure is done on an infant, they can return to normal feeding immediately afterward.  

Next Steps & Resources:

The material provided through HealthU is intended to be used as general information only and should not replace the advice of your physician. Always consult your physician for individual care.



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