The submandibular glands are a pair of salivary glands under the jawbone. Each of these glands produce saliva, which travels through a long duct to just under the tongue at the front of the mouth. Surgical removal of the submandibular gland can be recommended for a mass in the gland or recurrent swelling or infection. A blockage of the salivary duct can be caused by the presence of stones or a narrowing of the duct. This blockage results in painful swelling when eating. While this swelling may resolve on its own, many patients need surgical intervention if it does not.
There are several risks associated with submandibular gland surgery. Minor risks include blood clot and infection at the surgical incision site. Other risks include:
- Facial weakness – There is an important nerve under the chin that is close to the submandibular gland that moves the lower lip. If damaged during the surgery, weakness of the lower lip can occur. This weakness is usually temporary, (6-12 weeks). Occasionally, permanent weakness of the lower lip follows this surgery.
- Numbness of the face and ear – The skin around the surgical incision may be numb after the operation. This numbness usually improves over several months.
- Unsightly scar – The incision must be placed under the jaw line which is readily visible. If the incision does not heal well, a thick or hypertrophic scar may be very visible or even unsightly. In such cases, injections or re-excision of the scar can often improve the appearance.
- Numbness of the tongue – The nerve that gives sensation and taste to that side of the anterior tongue runs close to the submandibular gland. The tongue may feel numb after surgery and in most cases this resolves in time. Permanent numbness is rare.
- Injury to tongue mobility: A nerve that is close to the submandibular gland assists the muscles in the tongue. While very unusual, this nerve can be damaged during surgery. However, if damage were to occur, it would not likely produce a noticeable disability.