The salivary glands are responsible for producing saliva, which helps to keep the mouth moist and aids in digestion. There are three major salivary glands – the parotid gland, the submandibular gland, and the sublingual gland. Each salivary gland has a different function, but all work together to produce saliva.
The parotid gland is the largest of the glands and is located in front of the ear. The submandibular gland is located under the jawbone, and the sublingual gland is located beneath the tongue. There are also hundreds of minor salivary glands throughout the lining of your mouth and throat, with most located on your lips and palate. All salivary glands secrete saliva through ducts that empty into the mouth.
Salivary gland procedures may be necessary for a variety of reasons, including salivary gland infections, salivary gland inflammation, and salivary gland cancer. These conditions can cause pain and other symptoms that make it difficult to eat or talk, so salivary gland procedures may be necessary to relieve these symptoms.
Before any procedure, your surgeon will discuss your medical history and perform a physical exam, including your head, mouth, and neck. Your surgeon will then discuss treatment options and the surgical procedure. Your surgeon may recommend a small needle biopsy to collect a sample of tissue for testing.
- Submandibular Gland Excision: One procedure that may be performed is submandibular gland surgery, which involves removing the submandibular salivary gland. This surgery is typically recommended when the gland becomes inflamed or infected, as this condition can cause pain and discomfort in the salivary glands and surrounding tissues. There is usually only minor swelling following minor submandibular gland removal.
- Parotidectomy: This surgery removes the entire salivary gland in front of the ear, which can become swollen and inflamed due to chronic infection or when a larger tumor is present.
- Sublingual Gland Excision: This procedure involves removing the sublingual salivary gland. This surgery may be recommended for tumors or inflammation. Benign tumors may only need the superficial lobe removed. If it is cancerous, your surgeon will try to remove the tumor and a small amount of healthy tissue around it. Radiation therapy can also be used to kill any remaining cancer cells. During surgery, the surgeon will try to preserve the lingual nerve that controls feeling and taste on the side of the tongue and the mandibular nerve, which helps facial movement.
- Sialendoscopy: This is a salivary gland procedure that involves using a small camera to access salivary ducts and remove salivary stones or other blockages. This procedure may be recommended for salivary gland infections, inflammation, or salivary stones. These stones, also known as salivary calculi, are small stones that form in the salivary glands. These stones can cause pain, discomfort, and difficulty eating and drinking. Salivary stones can also block saliva flow, leading to salivary gland inflammation and infection.
The Benefits of Removal
There are many benefits to salivary gland procedures, including the ability to relieve pain and discomfort caused by salivary gland disorders such as:
- Salivary stones
- Bacterial infections
In addition, salivary gland procedures can help to prevent complications from these conditions, such as salivary gland infection spreading to other parts of the body. Salivary gland procedures can also improve your quality of life by making it easier to eat and drink.
Salivary gland procedures are generally safe and effective, but as with any type of surgery, some risks may be involved, including nerve damage, bleeding, and blood clots. Some possible risks and complications that may occur during salivary gland procedures include:
Damage to facial nerves: Salivary gland procedures like parotidectomy may involve cutting through facial nerves. While complete paralysis is rare, the procedure can cause temporary or permanent damage to the facial nerves. If the facial nerve injury is caused by retraction (pulling) of the nerve during surgery or swelling from the operation, the damage may heal, and facial function generally improves over a few months. If the facial nerve does not function after a certain length of time, various surgery methods may fix this.
Infection: While rare, salivary gland procedures may cause an infection to spread from the salivary gland to other parts of the body. This can be particularly dangerous in salivary gland tumors, as an infection can spread quickly and may be difficult to treat.
Frey Syndrome: A condition that causes sweating and flushing of the skin. This condition is caused by damage to the sympathetic nerves during salivary gland surgery.
Trouble speaking: Any procedures that involve cutting into salivary ducts may cause temporary difficulty speaking, chewing, or swallowing. This is a common side effect of salivary gland procedures and typically improves over time as the salivary glands heal from surgery.
Change of Appearance: Procedures that involve removing part of the salivary gland may cause a change in appearance, such as scars, numbness, or paralysis of facial muscles.
Risks and complications of salivary gland procedures are typically rare, and most patients experience little to no problems after surgery. However, discussing all possible risks and complications with your surgeon before having any salivary gland procedure is important.
How Long Is Recovery?
The recovery time for salivary gland procedures varies depending on the type of surgery performed. For example, salivary stone removal is typically an outpatient procedure, meaning patients can go home the same day as the surgery. However, a more complex, extensive surgery, such as parotidectomy, may require a hospital stay. Salivary gland procedures generally have a relatively short recovery time, and most patients can resume their normal activities within a few days. Strenuous activities should be avoided for the first week after surgery.
Will I Have a Scar?
One of the main concerns that many patients have before salivary gland procedures is whether or not they will have a visible scar. This can vary depending on the type of salivary gland surgery performed. For example, salivary stone removal may only leave behind a small incision, while parotidectomy may result in minor scar. Some parotid tumors can be completely removed via the patient’s mouth (transoral parotidectomy), avoiding facial incisions. However, all salivary gland procedures are performed using minimally invasive techniques, which means that scars are usually small and not very noticeable.
Precision and Care
Salivary gland procedures are safe and effective, offering a range of benefits for patients dealing with numerous conditions. These conditions can cause pain and discomfort, as well as increase the risk of infection or other complications. With expert precision and care, salivary gland procedures can help relieve these symptoms and prevent further problems. We provide specialized care for patients, no matter the disorder, using minimally invasive procedures.
At AZ Max Oral Surgery, our main concern is your health and well-being. If you are considering a salivary gland procedure, consult with our qualified surgeons to discuss your options and ensure that the procedure is right for you. Call (480) 830-5866 or complete the online booking form to schedule an appointment.