Mucoceles are relatively benign lesions that occur within the minor salivary glands of the oral cavity. Obstruction or damage to minor salivary gland ducts result in gradual buildup of mucus and a coinciding oral lesion. Mucus continues to accumulate in the surrounding tissues, leading to a fluid filled cyst-like lesion (pseudo-cyst) within the oral cavity. Although typically painless, mucoceles can present in areas that interfere with normal speech, chewing, or swallowing.
Mucoceles typically occur following one of two scenarios:
- Following facial trauma associated with an accident or surgical procedure that injures the salivary gland or duct
- Spontaneously following salivary gland duct obstruction
In both scenarios, the proper drainage of fluid from the gland into the oral cavity is compromised. Consequently, saliva builds up in the surrounding tissues leading to a fluid filled structure. Although normal saliva is mainly comprised of water, its other components, including mucous, are not easily resorbed. The body reacts to mucus that has improperly accumulated within tissue by forming a wall around it. This walled off structure is often visible as a blue fluid filled lesion.
Mucoceles are not typically considered to be dangerous or associated with significant morbidity. Because of their position within the oral cavity they can however interfere with normal chewing, speech, and swallowing. Mucocele’s usually require treatment by a trained specialist to prevent recurrence.
EVALUATION & TREATMENT
Mucoceles should be evaluated and treated by a qualified salivary gland specialist. These lesions, although relatively benign, have a high rate of recurrence if not treated correctly. While draining the fluid from a mucocele may temporarily alleviate symptoms, the mechanisms that led to its formation are still untreated. Drainage of a mucocele is rarely sufficient to prevent its eventual recurrence.
A salivary gland specialist is the medical professional that is most qualified to determine that the lesion in question is indeed a mucocele. Once a proper diagnosis has been established, these specialists can customize a treatment protocol that will minimize the risk of lesion recurrence while taking into account the patient’s lifestyle.
FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS
What is a mucocele?
A mucocele is a mucous filled structure that typically forms following trauma or obstruction of a salivary gland. Mucoceles develop as a result of disruption of the normal flow of saliva from the gland to the oral cavity. When the duct to the oral cavity has been damaged or obstructed, saliva backs up and accumulates in the surrounding tissues. This accumulation leads to a cyst like lesion called a pseudocyst.
What types of trauma can lead to a mucocele?
A mucocele can be caused by any type of trauma to the salivary glands including physical or surgical. Some examples of facial trauma that can lead to a mucocele include:
- Surgical Trauma
- Motor Vehicle Accident
- Sporting Injury
- Facial Injury
- Physical Altercation
Who is best suited to treat a mucocele?
It is recommended that all cases of suspected mucocele be evaluated and treated by a salivary gland specialist. These physicians are trained to recognize and treat rare and difficult cases not commonly seen by other providers. Mucoceles are associated with a high rate of recurrence and as such should be addressed with customized treatment protocols to minimize this risk.
If my mucocele is drained, will it recur?
Mucoceles that pop or are treated by drainage are associated with a high rate of recurrence. Because the mechanism which initially led to the formation of the mucocele has not been treated, recurrence of the lesion is very likely. Treatment by a qualified salivary gland specialist is highly recommended.
Is a mucocele considered a cyst?
In the strictest sense of the term, a mucocele is not considered a cyst. Instead mucoceles are classified as pseudocysts.
Is a mucocele considered to be a dangerous medical condition?
Mucoceles are relatively benign lesions that typically cause annoyance to the patient. In some cases, mucoceles can occur in areas that interfere with chewing, swallowing, or speech. Prompt treatment is encouraged to avoid these complications.
While a mucocele may not be of immediate concern, evaluation by a qualified salivary gland specialist is highly recommended to rule out other conditions that may have a similar appearance.
Who is at risk for developing a mucocele?
Anyone can potentially develop a mucocele spontaneously following salivary gland obstruction. In addition, patients that have sustained trauma to the salivary glands are at increased risk of mucocele development.