Mucocele: Causes, Symptoms, and Treatment

It's natural to be a little worried when a new lump or bump forms on your body. If you or your child develops a soft swelling in the mouth, it may just be a mucocele -- a harmless cyst. It's still a good idea to get it checked out, though, especially if it's bothersome.

Causes

Where does a mucocele come from? It centers on a small salivary gland, which makes saliva in your mouth.

Here's what happens:

Your saliva moves from a salivary gland through tiny tubes (ducts) into your mouth. One of these ducts can become damaged or blocked. This most often happens if you repeatedly bite or suck on your lower lip or cheek.

Getting hit in the face could also disrupt the duct. Remember that "head-on collision" in your pick-up game of basketball last month? Maybe that was the original culprit.

What happens once the duct damage is done? Mucus seeps out, pools, becomes walled off, and causes a cyst-like swelling. A similar buildup happens when the duct has become blocked.

Symptoms

Mucoceles often show up on the inside of your lower lips, your gums, the roof of your mouth, or under your tongue. Those on the floor of the mouth are called ranulas. These are rare, but because they are larger, they can cause more problems with speech, chewing, and swallowing.

Mucoceles may have these characteristics:

  • Moveable and painless
  • Soft, round, dome-shaped
  • Pearly or semi-clear surface or bluish in color
  • 2 to 10 millimeters in diameter

Treatment

Mucoceles often go away without treatment. But sometimes they enlarge. Don't try to open them or treat them yourself. See your doctor, your child's pediatrician, or your dentist for expert advice.

These are the two types of treatment a doctor or dentist most commonly uses:

Removing the gland. The dentist or doctor may use a scalpel or laser to remove the salivary gland. Local anesthesia numbs the pain.

Helping a new duct to form. Called marsupialization, this technique helps a new duct form and helps saliva leave the salivary gland.

The dentist or doctor:

  • Disinfects the area
  • Puts a stitch through the mucocele and ties a knot
  • Gently presses out saliva
  • Removes the stitch after about a week

Other types of treatment that may bring down swelling or prevent the need for surgery include steroid injections and medications applied to the surface of the mucocele.

WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Alfred D. Wyatt Jr., DMD on January 20, 2016

Sources

SOURCES:

Lumerman, H. and Bowe, R. Atlas of Oral and Maxilofacial Histopathology, Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, 2012.

Silverman, S. and Eversole L. Essentials of Oral Medicine, PMPH, 2001.

Senthikumar, B. Journal of Pharmacy and Bioallied Sciences, 2012.

FamilyDoctor.org: "Mouth Problems."

Buttarovoli, P and Leffler, S. Minor Emergencies, Saunders, 2012.

Sagara, S. Journal of Indian Society Of Pedodontics and Dentistry, 2012.

Seo, J. Open Dentistry Journal, 2012.

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