What is a Lip Tie?

Medically Reviewed by Dan Brennan, MD on April 14, 2023
4 min read

A lip tie is a condition where the skin of the upper lip is attached to the gums in a way that prevents lip movement and makes breastfeeding difficult for your baby. Learn more about how lip ties are diagnosed and what your options are for fixing one if your baby is affected. 

If you suspect that your baby has a lip tie, talk to a medical professional about having it checked out. You can talk to any of the following experts:

During the evaluation, a medical professional will talk to you about breastfeeding and may ask to watch your baby feed so they can look for signs of a lip tie. They will check the following: 

  • Your baby’s ability (or inability) to latch deep enough for effective feeding
  • If your baby makes a clicking sound during breastfeeding, which is a sign of a poor latch
  • Spitting milk out or choking on milk
  • Feeding with high frequency, called cluster feeding
  • Poor weight gain or transfer of milk during a breastfeeding session
  • Development of jaundice, which is a condition where your baby's skin turns slightly yellow

Medical experts will also check for the presence of a lip tie by looking underneath your baby's upper lip. There are four levels of severity when diagnosing a lip tie, with level four being the most severe:

  • Level 1 – Mucosal
  • Level 2 – Gingival
  • Level 3 – Papillary
  • Level 4 – Papilla Penetrating

Breastfeeding is natural, but that doesn’t mean it’s easy. Your nipples may be sore when breastfeeding your baby, but severe pain or damage to your nipples is a sign that something is wrong with your baby’s latch. You may experience: 

  • Pain when your baby is nursing
  • Damage to your nipples
  • Distortion of the shape of your nipples
  • Development of engorgement, blocked ducts, or mastitis
  • Issues with your milk supply, either too much or too little

Dental Issues. When a baby can't breastfeed effectively, it can lead to poor nutrition. Additionally, a severe lip tie may also affect your baby’s dental health. Lip ties often lead to tooth decay in children. 

Lip ties can lead to tooth decay for your baby when milk and bits of food get trapped in the teeth because of the upper lip. It is important to clean the area behind your baby's upper lip well to prevent this. If your baby's teeth are not cleaned well in that area, your child may also experience a receding of their gums because of bacteria buildup. 

A lip tie can also cause a significant gap between the front two teeth. This happens when the lip tie is severe enough that it extends beyond the gums and connects onto the palate of the roof of their mouth. 

Diet Issues. As your baby gets older, they may have trouble eating some foods with a lip tie that isn’t corrected. For example, their lip may not be able to move enough to clean the food off of a spoon, or they may struggle to manipulate bites of food with their lip for chewing. If this happens, your child may develop eating preferences that seem picky. 

The procedure for correcting a lip tie is called a frenectomy and is completed by a dentist. It is considered a surgical procedure, although it takes only a few minutes to complete. Your baby will lie in a chair or on a table and will probably be strapped down to prevent sudden movements. 

The dentist performing the procedure will apply a numbing solution to your baby’s gums to prevent any discomfort. Then they will use a small, handheld laser to cut the piece of skin connecting the lip to the gums. 

Right after the procedure is finished, your baby is free to be held and breastfeed if they want to. Some babies often experience an immediate improvement in latch right after the procedure. However, depending on your baby’s age it may take time to adjust to getting a deeper latch during breastfeeding. They may have a habit of latching incorrectly and will need encouragement to learn how to latch properly. 

Keep in mind that you will have to complete stretches for your baby multiple times a day as your baby’s upper lip heals. By pulling up on the lip and gently rubbing the area with a clean finger, you can prevent the skin from growing back together.