Some children are born with a short frenulum (FREN-yuh-luhm). The frenulum is the thin tissue that connects the tongue to the bottom of the mouth. The tongue is one of the most important muscles for speech and for swallowing. Having a short frenulum can make it difficult to swallow — especially for infants and children — and speak. Newborn babies with a short frenulum may struggle to nurse, which can make it difficult to gain weight. These patients are often referred to as being tongue-tied, a condition known as ankyloglossia [ang-kuh-loh-GLOS-ee-uh]. The condition may also cause dental problems in children. One way to treat tongue-tied patients is with a procedure called lingual frenectomy [fren-EK-tuh-mee].
A lingual frenectomy is a surgical procedure that removes the frenulum. During the operation, the surgeon makes a small cut on the frenulum to free up the tongue. The procedure may also be referred to as a frenuloplasty [FREN-yoo-loh-plass-tee]. An Ears, Nose, and Throat (ENT) surgeon or oral surgeon will perform a lingual frenectomy.
Your physician will discuss the risks and potential side effects before the procedure. Common risks of a lingual frenectomy include:
- General risks from anesthesia (if used during the procedure)
- Nerve damage to the mouth and tongue
- Reattached frenulum (rare)
Benefits of a lingual frenectomy include:
- Quick procedure. It takes only a few minutes.
- Quick recovery. It causes discomfort for only a few days.
- Improvement in speech.
- Corrects problems with nursing and eating (in infants).
A lingual frenectomy may be performed in a doctor’s office, a dental office, or at a hospital. You will be given instructions on what time to arrive for the surgery. Once you arrive, you will be brought back to a procedure room.
The procedure is administered by:
- Numbing the area around the frenulum with a local anesthetic. If your child is having the procedure, they may receive general anesthesia.
- Using either a laser or a scalpel. The surgeon will make a small cut on the frenulum to free up the tongue.
- Placing a few stitches in your mouth to help the area heal.
Following a lingual frenectomy:
- Children should not be placed on their tummies. This will put pressure on the jaw and could interfere with healing.
- Patients should not rinse their mouth out for the first 24 hours. After a day or so, you should rinse your mouth out with salt water several times a day.
- You will have a follow-up appointment. You will meet with your surgeon in about a week.
- There may be bleeding from the surgical site. If you notice that the bleeding won’t stop, use a sterile gauze pad and press gently against the surgical site until the bleeding stops.
- You may experience swelling and pain. Your doctor may prescribe pain medicine to help during recovery. Be sure to take any medicine as instructed by your doctor.
- You may be able to resume normal activities in just a few days. The typical recovery time is about a week.