What does the operation involve?
The submandibular gland is removed under a general anaesthetic, ie you are put to sleep completely. The operation involves a cut around two inches long (5cm) in the upper part of the neck just below the jaw line. Once the gland has been removed the incision is held together again with stitches. These usually need to be removed around a week after surgery. At the end of the operation a small tube is also placed through the skin into the underlying wound to drain any blood which may collect. This is usually removed on the morning following surgery.
Will anything else be done while I am asleep?
If your gland is being removed because of infection that is caused by a stone it may also be necessary to make a cut inside the mouth to remove that stone.
How long will the operation take?
The length of time partly depends upon the degree of difficulty. In an uncomplicated procedure it will take approximately 45 minutes to remove the submandibular gland.
What can I expect after the operation?
You usually require a night in hospital following the surgery. It is unlikely to be very sore but regular painkillers will be arranged for you. There is relatively little swelling following submandibular gland removal.
Do I need any time off work?
It is usually advisable to take a week off from work to recover from the surgery. During this time you should avoid strenuous activity.
Is there anything that I need to do when I get home?
It is important to keep the wound dry for the first week following surgery. This obviously means you need to take care when washing or shaving.
Will I have a scar?
All cuts made through the skin leave a scar but the majority of these fade with time and are difficult to see when they are fully healed. It may take several months for your scar to fade but eventually it should blend into the natural folds and contours of your face.
What are the possible problems?
Bleeding from the wound is unlikely to be a problem. If it occurs it usually does so within the first 12 hours of surgery which is why you need to stay in hospital overnight.
Infection is uncommon but if your surgeon thinks it may happen to you a short course of antibiotics will be prescribed.
The surgeon tells me that damage to nerves is possible. What does this mean?
There are three nerves that lie close to the submandibular gland that can be damaged during its removal. Most nerve damage occurs as a result of bruising of the nerves since they are held out of the way and protected during surgery. If nerve damage occurs it is usually temporary. There are three nerves that can be damaged all with varying results:
Weakness of the lower lip - a lower branch of the facial nerve is the nerve most likely to be bruised in the removal of a submandibular gland. If bruising occurs it affects the movement of your lower lip, leading to a slightly crooked smile.
Numbness of the tongue - the lingual nerve is rarely bruised. Since it is the nerve that supplies feeling to the side of the tongue bruising results in a tingly or numb feeling in the tongue, similar to the sensation after having an injection at the dentist.
Restricted tongue movement - the hypoglossal nerve is only very rarely bruised. It is a nerve that makes the tongue move and damage can therefore result in decrease of tongue movement.
Is permanent nerve damage possible?
The majority of damage to nerves is temporary although it can take several months for them to recover. Permanent damage is possible and usually occurs in only the most difficult cases.
If a salivary gland is removed will I be left with a dry mouth?
The removal of one submandibular gland will not have an impact on the amount of saliva that you produce. There are many other salivary glands left in and around the mouth that will still keep it moist.