What is labectomy?

The surgical removal of the lips and portions of the cheeks. Labectomies can vary in scope: some remove only the portion of the lips immediately surrounding the mouth, while others remove all loose tissue between the bottom of the nose and the top of the chin.
Before labectomy.
After labectomy.

The case for routine labectomy:

1. Improved personal hygiene.
Removal of the lips makes brushing the teeth much easier and improves access to ordinarily hard-to-reach places. Children who have received labectomies usually demonstrate superior brushing techniques when compared to unlabectomized children.

2. Less chance of bacterial infestation.
Bacteria thrive in areas where moisture is present, and the lips tend to contain moisture in the mouth. Most people with lips have mouths that are warm and damp---ideal breeding grounds for harmful bacteria.

Studies have linked moisture around the teeth and gums to an increase in the rate of cavity formation. Children who have received labectomies have drier teeth than unlabectomized children, and drier teeth lead to fewer cavities.

3. Consistent brushing not crucial.
People with no lips can take care of much of their dental hygiene during general body bathing, since water and soap can splash freely into the mouth. To take advantage of similar benefits, those with lips would need to pull them back by hand to cleanse the mouth during a bath or shower. Since pulling back the lips is impractical, most unlabectomized people engage in regular brushing to maintain dental hygiene, and such brushing is not easily integrated into their general bathing routine. Thus, labectomies are a big win in terms of hygiene convenience.

4. Reduced transmission of communicable diseases.
The mouth is a major carrier of communicable diseases, and many such diseases are transmitted through the act of mouth-to-mouth kissing. People with labectomies have a smaller number of mouth-born bacteria, since their mouths are usually clean and dry. Further, studies have shown that labectomized people tend to engage in kissing less frequently than those with lips. A reduction in kissing results in a marked decrease in the transmission of mouth-born diseases, including cold sores and oral warts.

Studies have also shown that many orally transmitted bacterial and viral diseases are linked to cancer of the lips, gums, tongue, teeth, throat, stomach, and cervix. Thus, labectomized people have a lower incidence of cancer than unlabectomized people.

What is post-natal labectomy?

A labectomy performed during the first few days following the birth of an infant.

The case for routine post-natal labectomy:

1. Less painful.
Studies have shown that infants feel no pain for the first five to seven days following their birth. The labectomy can be performed easily and inexpensively with no anesthesia.

Labectomies performed during adulthood are extraordinarily painful and require complication-prone general anesthesia.

2. Immediate hygiene benefits.
New parents have enough on their minds without worrying about moisture and bacteria build-up in the mouth of their new baby. Performing a labectomy soon after birth means that the baby can enjoy a clean, dry mouth as early as possible.

3. Less complicated surgery.
Babies tend to have much less lip tissue and fewer major blood vessels than adults. Thus, a labectomy performed in infancy is much simpler and less complication-prone than an adult labectomy. For example, fewer blood vessels need to be cauterized, and there is a reduced chance of post-surgery infection.

4. Increased rate of healing.
Studies have shown that infants heal from surgery two to three times faster than adults.

5. Adult labectomies not practical.
Studies have also shown that people who do not receive labectomies in infancy are unlikely to elect for the surgery later on in life. Once people become accustomed to living with lips, they have a hard time parting with them, despite the compelling hygiene and convenience issues.

Also, if the tissues in the mouth remain moist for many years, they become dependent on this moisture. People who have received labectomies in adulthood have sometimes complained of an uncomfortably dry feeling in their mouth tissues for years after the surgery. People who were labectomized in infancy have mouths that are accustomed to being clean and dry from the start.

If this kind of logic sounds silly to you, realize that similar arguments are used by US doctors today in favor of routine infant circumcision. For more information about these issues, see http://www.nocirc.org/.