A salivary gland may be removed if there is a growth in the gland, or a blockage in the salivary duct.Blockages are usually caused by salivary duct stones or a narrowing of your salivary duct.
Depending on how much of the gland is affected, you may have all or part of the gland removed.
Your salivary glands produce saliva to keep your mouth moist. It also allows you to swallow, helps keep your teeth healthy and breaks down your food as part of digestion.
There are three major pairs of salivary glands in your mouth.
- Parotid glands. These are the largest of your salivary glands and are located on either side of your face between your cheekbone and your jawbone in front of your ears.
- Submandibular glands. These are smaller than the parotid glands and are located under each side of your jawbone.
- Sublingual glands. These are the smallest of the three types and can be felt as two small lumps on the floor of your mouth underneath your tongue.
As well as these major glands, there are many other tiny salivary glands throughout your mouth and throat. These are called your minor salivary glands.
Diagnosis of a salivary gland condition
Salivary gland problems are usually first noticed as either a swelling of the whole gland or as a smaller lump within the gland. When you see your GP, he or she will ask about your symptoms and examine you. Your GP may then refer you to a surgeon with a specific interest in salivary gland diseases. This will usually be an ear, nose and throat (ENT) surgeon or an oral and maxillofacial surgeon (a doctor who specialises in the surgical treatment of conditions that affect the head, neck, face and jaw).
You may need to have a blood test and an ultrasound, CT or MRI scan. If your doctor thinks you might have a tumour, you will have a biopsy taken from the affected gland. A biopsy is a small sample of tissue. This will be sent to a laboratory for testing to determine the type of cells and if these are benign (not cancerous) or cancerous. Most salivary gland tumours are benign.
What are the alternatives to salivary gland removal?
Salivary gland tumours are usually treated with surgery. This is because the tumour needs to be removed to both confirm its type and to cure the problem. If you have a salivary duct stone, you can sometimes have it removed with a procedure known as a sialoscopy or with a small operation inside your mouth. In sialoscopy your surgeon uses a flexible tube (endoscope) to remove the stone.