Orthodontic treatment involves more than just putting braces on your teeth. The teeth are just one part of your smile. Sometimes your orthodontist will recommend other procedures to help make your orthodontic treatment result the best it can be. One such procedure is a frenectomy.
Successful orthodontic treatment creates a smile that is attractive, healthy, and stable. Achieving a stable result requires that your orthodontist consider the size and shape of the teeth, the position of the teeth in the bone, the pressure from the lips and tongue, and the condition of the surrounding soft tissues. Thick gums can affect the position of the teeth before, during, and after treatment. One of the most common conditions related to the gum tissues is a space created by a thick band of tissue lying between the upper front teeth known as the “frenum.” The procedure used to reshape, shorten, or remove this tissue is known as a “frenectomy.”
You will find the frenum connecting the inside of the upper lip to the gum tissue between the roots of the upper front teeth. Normally the frenum blends into the gum tissue above the level of the teeth. In some cases however, it extends between the incisors and appears to push them apart creating a space. In most cases however, the frenum was present when the permanent incisors came into the mouth forcing them to come in spread apart. Not only can this tissue prevent the front teeth from coming into the mouth next to each other, it can also push them apart after orthodontic treatment. Dentists perform frenectomies to keep this from happening.
There is some controversy about the best time to remove this tissue. Sadly, merely clipping the frenum after the permanent incisors have come in will not make them to go back together on their own. A “standalone” frenectomy is only effective at closing a space if it is performed before the teeth have come in (making it essentially a preventive measure). If your dentist or orthodontist notices that your child’s frenum is too long before the permanent teeth poke through, removing the extra tissue may allow them come in next to each other.
If there is already a space between the teeth, the best time to do the frenectomy is after your orthodontist has closed the space with braces. This is most effective for two reasons. First, if the teeth are brought together and the frenum reevaluated, it may be discovered that the tissue is not actually pushing the teeth apart at all and that the procedure may not be necessary. Second, if a frenectomy is deemed necessary after the space is closed, it is best to have the teeth in their desired positions while the tissue is healing. Scar tissue that forms between the teeth as a result of the surgery might actually make the space harder to close during treatment and force the teeth back apart afterwards. Therefore the best time to do a frenectomy is after the space has been closed.
One added precaution that should be taken after closing a space and performing a frenectomy is stabilizing the incisors with a bonded retainer for at least a year. This not only holds the space closed in the short-term, but it also gives the bone and gums around the teeth a chance to adapt to their new position so they’ll be more stable in the long-term.
NOTE: The author, Dr. Greg Jorgensen, is a board-certified orthodontist who is in the private practice of orthodontics in Rio Rancho, New Mexico (a suburb on the Westside of Albuquerque). He was trained at BYU, Washington University in St. Louis, and the University of Iowa in the United States. Dr. Jorgensen’s 25 years of specialty practice and nearly 10,000 finished cases qualify him an expert in two-phase treatment, extraction and non-extraction therapy, functional orthodontics, clear aligners (Invisalign), and multiple bracket systems (including conventional braces, Damon and other self-ligating brackets, Suresmile, and lingual braces). This blog is for informational purposes only and is designed to help consumers understand currently accepted orthodontic concepts. It is not a venue for debating alternative treatment theories. Dr. Jorgensen is licensed to diagnose and treat patients only in the state of New Mexico. He cannot diagnose cases described in comments nor can he select treatment plans for readers. Please understand that because he has tens of thousands of readers each month, IT IS IMPOSSIBLE FOR HIM TO RESPOND TO EVERY QUESTION. Please read all of the comments associated with each article as most of the questions he receives each week have been asked and answered previously. The opinions expressed here are protected by copyright laws and can only be used with written permission from the author.