Frenulum Tear

Get CMETorn FrenulumHave you ever been told that something “isn’t a big deal” only to later find out that it was? Of course, any one who is in a significant relationship with another person has experienced this phenomenon. I, myself, may be at fault (once in a blue moon). Often, when I evaluate intra-oral injuries I will tell families that the mouth heals very well and seldom requires primary repair (ex, Tongue Lacerations). Naturally, there are other intra-oral injuries that do warrant more contemplation and concern (ex, Tonsillar Injuries). A lip frenulum tear, however, is “no big deal.” Right? Well… let us just remain vigilant.

 

Frenulum Tear

  • The upper lip has the Superior Labial Frenulum and lower lip has the Inferior Labial Frenulum.
    • Also referred to as a Frenum.
    • These are folds of mucous membrane that are midline and extend from the gingiva to the lips.
  • They can be easily torn when the mouth is hit or the lip is pulled/stretched.
  • Often bleeds “a lot” (as many injuries to the face/mouth do), but usually will spontaneously stop bleeding.

 

Frenulum Tear: Management

  • This is easy… management is reassurance that it will heal fine on its own! 🙂
    • Let families know that they may bleed intermittently if people keep pulling open the lip to see the injury.
    • Simple pressure on outside of lip usually is enough to stop bleeding.
    • May want to advocate for a soft mechanical diet for a few days to help avoid reopening the wound with sharp crackers and chips (the typical diet of most American kids).
  • Does not typically require specific closure or intervention.
    • Heals well on its own without primary closure.
    • If the tear is more than the frenulum, extending to the surrounding gingiva, repair may be necessary – be sure to use absorbable sutures!

 

Frenulum Tear: It is Trauma!

  • Unfortunately, another consideration needs to cross your mind: Non-Accidental Trauma / Abuse.
    • A frenulum tear is NOT pathognomonic for abuse, but intra-oral injuries are seen in a significant number of abuse cases. [Maguire, 2007]
    • The history, obviously, plays an important role in helping to raise concern for abuse.
      • Knowing the developmental milestones can help determine whether an reported cause of injury would be reasonable.
        • A 2 month old would not have caused her/his own frenulum tear by falling.
        • An 18 month old may have fallen an hit the lips on a table edge.
        • Non-ambulatory children with facial injuries should raise your level of concern for abuse. [Starr, 2015; Thackeray, 2007]
      • The most frequently reported abusive injury to the mouth is injury to the lips, but a frenulum tear in isolation does not equate to abuse. [Maguire, 2007; Thackeray, 2007]
    • Several abusive mechanisms have been proposed to cause a frenulum tear: [Maguire, 2007]
      • Forceful feeding
      • Forceful placement of a pacifier
      • Gagging
      • Gripping or stretching of the lip
      • Vigorous rubbing of the lip
      • Direct forceful blow to lip

 

Moral of the Morsel

  • A frenulum tear can be managed with simple, non-surgical interventions.
  • A frenulum tear is intra-oral trauma. Remain vigilant and evaluate for other trauma.
  • Undress the child and look for other trauma. I know it is tempting to just look in the mouth… but be thorough and look for other signs of non-accidental trauma.
  • A frenulum tear is not pathognomonic for abuse, but make sure the story and developmental milestones make sense.

 

References

Starr M1, Klein EJ, Sugar N. A Perplexing Case of Child Abuse: Oral Injuries in Abuse and Physician Reporting Responsibilities. Pediatr Emerg Care. 2015 Aug;31(8):581-3. PMID: 25426684. [PubMed] [Read by QxMD]

Maguire S1, Hunter B, Hunter L, Sibert JR, Mann M, Kemp AM; Welsh Child Protection Systematic Review Group. Diagnosing abuse: a systematic review of torn frenum and other intra-oral injuries. Arch Dis Child. 2007 Dec;92(12):1113-7. PMID: 17468129. [PubMed] [Read by QxMD]

Thackeray JD1. Frena tears and abusive head injury: a cautionary tale. Pediatr Emerg Care. 2007 Oct;23(10):735-7. PMID: 18090110. [PubMed] [Read by QxMD]

Naidoo S1. A profile of the oro-facial injuries in child physical abuse at a children’s hospital. Child Abuse Negl. 2000 Apr;24(4):521-34. PMID: 10798841. [PubMed] [Read by QxMD]

da Fonseca MA1, Feigal RJ, ten Bensel RW. Dental aspects of 1248 cases of child maltreatment on file at a major county hospital. Pediatr Dent. 1992 May-Jun;14(3):152-7. PMID: 1528783. [PubMed] [Read by QxMD]

Sean M. Fox

I enjoy taking care of patients and I finding it endlessly rewarding to help train others to do the same. I trained at the Combined Emergency Medicine and Pediatrics residency program at University of Maryland, where I had the tremendous fortune of learning from world renown educators and clinicians. Now I have the unbelievable honor of working with an unbelievably gifted group of practitioners at Carolinas Medical Center. I strive every day to inspire my residents as much as they inspire me.

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6 Responses

  1. Hannah says:

    I have torn my frenum three times (maybe four) and it has never healed properly. It doesn’t hold my lip down like it’s supposed to and it kind of sticks out. I might have done something to it again because it hurts. Is this normal?

  2. Shaun says:

    I was either 6 or 7 when I tore my upper frenum. I did a belly flop on my trampoline and my upper lip got streatched to far when I landed. I remember a lot of pain and blood but that’s about it. I can’t even remember how long it took to heal. Works fine now though.

  3. Hunter says:

    My sisters upper lip was tore and it was seriously bleeding but the bleeding stopped her upper lip is a bit purple now. is she fine

    • Sean Fox says:

      Obviously,I cannot give out specific medical advice to patients who I have never evaluated. That being said, where the injury actually is matters in to assessing whether any intervention is needed. If you are concerned, you should see your physician.
      Hope all is well,
      sean

  4. evans says:

    what is the function of the frenulum

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