In the mouth, a frenum or frenulum is a piece of soft tissue that runs in a thin line between the lips and gums. It’s present on the top and bottom of the mouth.
There’s also a frenum that stretches along the underside of the tongue and connects to the bottom of the mouth behind the teeth. The frenum can vary in thickness and length among different people.
Sometimes a frenum can get pulled or snagged when eating, kissing, having oral sex, or wearing oral appliances such as braces. While this injury may bleed a lot, usually there’s no need for stitching or medical treatment.
However, some experts recommend screening a person with a torn frenum for signs of physical or sexual abuse, as it can sometimes be a sign of abuse.
If one or more of a person’s frenums get in the way of normal use of the mouth or tears repeatedly, an oral surgeon or your dentist may recommend surgical removal. This type of surgery is called a frenectomy.
Pictures of a ferenum
There are two types of frenum in your mouth:
This type of frenum connects the base of the tongue to the floor of the mouth. If this frenum is tight, it is called tongue tie. When this happens, it affects the way the tongue moves in the mouth and can make if difficult for a baby to nurse efficiently.
This type of frenum is located in the front of the mouth, between the upper lip and the upper gum and between the lower lip and the lower gum. If there is a problem with these, it can alter the way teeth grow in and can affect your dental health if it pulls the gum away from a tooth exposing the root.
The purpose of a frenum is to give the upper lip, lower lip, and tongue more stability in the mouth. When a frenum grows abnormally, it can cause cascading development issues within the mouth.
Some conditions a person may experience if there’s a problem with a frenum include:
- developmental abnormalities in the mouth
- discomfort while swallowing
- disruption of normal development of the upper two front teeth, causing a gap
- frenum tear
- issues with nursing, due to tongue-tie or lip-tie in babies
- snoring and mouth breathing, due to abnormalities in jaw development caused by unusual frenum growth
- speech issues if the tongue tight
- trouble fully extending the tongue
- gap created between front teeth
- pulling gum tissue away from the base of the teeth and exposing the tooth root
Frenum abnormalities may also occur after oral surgeries caused by issues with surgical techniques. It’s important for an oral surgeon to be precise when cutting soft tissue in the mouth. Irregularities can cause frenum abnormalities and lasting problems with the teeth, gums, and mouth.
A frenectomy is surgery to remove a frenum. It’s designed to reverse any of the undesirable effects of a frenum that does not develop properly. This usually means reducing a frenum that is very long or too tight.
Frenectomies are usually only recommended if a person’s frenum gets in the way of normal use and development of the mouth, or if it tears repeatedly.
Frenectomies are commonly performed in children who cannot properly speak or breastfeed due to an abnormal frenum.
If you or your child has a severe frenum abnormality, more intensive oral surgery is usually recommended. Talk to your doctor to learn about your options.
Frenectomies are usually short surgeries performed in an oral surgeon’s office under localized anesthesia. The recovery is quick, generally taking a few days.
The procedure may be performed using a scalpel, via electrosurgery, or with lasers depending on the extent of the surgery and its purpose.
Your oral surgeon will either numb the area or, if the frenectomy is more extensive or the patient is a very young child, general anesthesia may be used. During general anesthesia, a person is unconscious and does not feel pain.
Your oral surgeon will then remove a small portion of the frenum and close the wound if necessary. You may have stitches.
Aftercare often includes taking non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs to ease any pain, in addition to keeping the area clean and avoiding excessive tongue movement.
Everyone has frenums in their mouths, but the shape and size of frenums vary widely across people. Because frenums are semi-loose bits of tissue in the mouth, many people experience frenum tears once in a while. These are usually not causes for concern.
In some cases, a person may develop a frenum that’s too long or has an abnormal shape. Severe frenum abnormalities may get in the way of using the mouth. They may even be signs of a serious health condition.
If you suspect you or your child has a frenum abnormality, talk to your doctor to see if surgical intervention or further treatment is necessary.