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Head & Neck

Salivary Gland Disorders

What Are the Salivary Glands and What Causes Them to Malfunction?

Salivary glands secrete saliva into your mouth through ducts. The salivary glands are found around the mouth and throat. The main glands are the parotid, submandibular (submaxillary), sublingual gland, and smaller glands located throughout the mouth area. Salivary glands can become infected; blocked; or have a tumor, stone, or other disorder. Surgery is done to treat the problem by removing part of or the entire affected gland. It may also be done to remove tissue for testing, like removing a tumor to test for cancer.

What Types of Surgery are Performed?

Surgery is done to remove a salivary gland. There are different types of surgeries, depending on which gland needs to be operated on: Parotidectomy—to remove the parotid gland, submandibular sialoadenectomy—to remove the submandibular gland, and/or sublingual gland surgery—to remove the sublingual gland.

How are Salivary Gland Disorders Treated?

These procedures are often done in an outpatient setting. But, if your surgery is extensive or is on a larger gland, you may need to stay in a hospital. There are two types of parotidectomy surgery. The type you will have depends on why the surgery is being done. The facial nerve runs near the parotid gland. If you have a tumor and it is above the facial nerve, then a superficial parotidectomy will be done. The tumor and affected tissue will be removed without harming the nerve. If you have a tumor that surrounds or grows into the facial nerve, a total parotidectomy will be done. The tumor, affected tissue, and parts of the nerve will be removed. For both types of surgery, our surgeons will access the gland by making a cut in front of the ear and down into the neck.

For removal of submandibular glands, our surgeons will make a cut in the neck, below the jawline. They will remove the submandibular gland, and possibly surrounding lymph nodes. If you are having the surgery to remove a stone that has grown in the gland, the stone will also be removed. If you are having sublingual gland surgery, it is most likely because a type of cyst, called a ranula, needs to be removed. During this surgery, our surgeons will make a cut through the mouth to remove the cyst. If the cyst is large, they may also need to make a cut into the neck. If you are having surgery to remove tumors from smaller salivary glands, our surgeons will make a cut in the area where the gland is located. They will then remove the tumor and any surrounding soft tissue and bone that is affected.

For all surgeries, once all tissue has been removed, our surgeons will close the area with sutures. In some surgeries, temporary drains may be put in place to remove any fluids (e.g., blood, saliva) from the wound. The surgeon may send tissue that was removed to a lab for testing. This is often done if a tumor was removed, since tests will determine whether the tumor is cancerous. Knowing this can help our surgeons plan for your care and treatment after surgery.

What Can I Expect After Surgery?

Anesthesia prevents pain during surgery. Your doctor will give you pain medicine after surgery. Right after surgery, the staff may check your facial movements by asking you to smile or pout. If you have a drain, they may show you how to care for it.