On my salivary gland

This is a tale of how I ended up on my couch, drinking lemon juice and chomping on Lemonheads.  It’s not a tale for the faint of heart, so proceed with caution.

Towards the end of April, I noticed a change in my mouth.  It was progressive change that I noticed over the course of a week.  It started with what felt like a scratch in my mouth below my tongue.  Uncomfortable, but nothing that was out of the ordinary.  I coach high school baseball.  I was chewing a lot of sunflower seeds.  I figured I scratched the bottom of my mouth and that I’d be in mild discomfort for a couple of days and that would be that.

After a week, that scratch hadn’t gone away.

Finally, on a Sunday afternoon, I looked in the mirror and was shocked at what I found.  I giant lump underneath my tongue.

I walked back out into the living room and asked my girlfriend to look in my mouth.  It was a weird request, but she obliged.  After peeking inside, she immediately suggested going to an Urgent Care down the street.

When you find a lump on your body that you know doesn’t belong there, it’s incredibly disconcerting.  The fact that someone who had looked at that lump was concerned was even more troublesome to me.

Clint Eastwood The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly

“I do whatever the hell I want in my office.” – Dr. Eastwood

After filling out the paperwork, I was promptly ushered into the doctor’s office.  He strolled in with a shoot-from-the-hip look on his face.  He was reckless.  The villagers said he was dangerous.  But some called him the best around.

I made up all of that narrative.  I didn’t know the doctor.  But it helped to calm me down to imagine my doctor like that, so Dr. Eastwood he was.

“Let’s see what’s going on with your mouth,” he said, as he looked over my paperwork.

I told him about my swollen mouth.  He told me to open up.  He looked around for a moment, felt around for a second or two, then told me to sit tight.

Sitting anywhere when you’re waiting for someone to tell you what’s wrong with your body is not a fun feeling.  I’m a neurotic guy to begin with, so things like this tend to make me automatically think of the worst-case scenario: this lump in my mouth is going to kill me somehow.

Once the doctor returned, he said that he could lance the thing in my mouth, which he referred to as a cyst, but he wasn’t really comfortable doing that.  So he recommended I go see Dr. Simmons, someone he assured me was much more qualified to do such a thing since he was an oral surgeon.

I agreed that if he were to cut my face, he should feel comfortable doing so, so I wished the doctor good day and set up an appointment with someone I hoped was knowledgeable enough to slice out that thing in my mouth.

At Dr. Simmons’s office, I was greeted by a medical assistant who was a graduate of the same high school I attended.  That was neat.  Overall my experience at this doctor’s office was enjoyable; until she looked in my mouth, took some pictures, and then said, ‘Oh.’

Now there’s a couple different connotations associated with the word ‘oh’.  You can say ‘oh’ with a nonchalant, almost cavalier tone.

“Did you know I have seven cats and I’ve named them after all my favorite characters in Leonardo DiCaprio movies?”

“Oh.”

You can say ‘oh’ with an inquisitive tone.

“Did you know that my brother used to play for the Boston Red Sox?”

“Oh?”

This ‘oh’ was more of a surprised tone.  Like you hop in your car, turn the key, and nothing happens.

Clearly this lady was not familiar with my neuroses.

Clogged salivary gland

This is what a plugged up salivary gland looks like in a mouth full of spectacular teeth.

After a few moments, the doctor came in and looked at the pictures on the computer.  He was a gentlemen; he got to know me before he shoved his fingers in my mouth.  Then he laid it out for me.

“You have a blocked salivary gland.”

That didn’t sound so bad.

“I’ve only ever dealt with this twice.  So we’re going to have to send you to Pittsburgh.”

That didn’t sound so bad.

“There’s risk of infection, so they’re probably going to cut underneath your chin.  Once they do that, they’ll be able to remove your salivary gland.”

Typical guy.  Always moving way too fast.

I took a personal day, got a CT Scan of my mouth and sent the results to Dr. Bernard J. Costello.  I then took another sick day and traveled to Pittsburgh to meet with Dr. Costello, who told me that I have the equivalent of a kidney stone in my salivary gland.  You see, your saliva is full of dissolved minerals.  Apparently these minerals collected in my gland and formed a stone that is preventing my saliva from passing completely through my gland.

I was then presented with two clear options.

1. I can wait and hope that if I salivate enough, the stone will break apart and pass.

2. I can have my salivary gland removed.

Call me crazy, but I opted for choice number one.

In all seriousness, after dealing with three different doctors, two of which were oral surgeons, I felt like I had no better option than to continue to live in discomfort and hope the problem cleared itself up on its own.  I didn’t feel like sacrificing a healthy gland seemed like a great idea, especially given the unconcerned attitude of all the doctors involved.

I’ve been dealing with a sore mouth for over two months now.  It’s completely changed my personality.  I’m much more irritable because the pain is chronic.  It’s not overwhelming, but it’s constant.  Imagine a fresh papercut.  Now imagine that cut in your mouth.

It’s also caused weird salivating habits.  My salivary glands that aren’t blocked are producing excess saliva to compensate for my gland that isn’t working properly.  If I’m not paying attention, I’ll end up with a mouth full of saliva and drool on myself (which has happened twice).  My salivary glands will also squirt at random, and often at inconvenient times, like when I’m in the middle of a conversation with someone.  Every so often my gland fills up with blood, puss, and saliva and a little bubble bursts, filling my mouth with a delicious cocktail of nastiness.  Occasionally, the few people who were privy to this will ask how my mouth is feeling.  Most of the time I just shrug and say fine.  I’m tired of talking about it.

So after all this, you can probably imagine my relief when, at my dentist appointment this week, my dentist recommended me to a friend of his who is an oral surgeon that deals specifically with people’s salivary glands.

My appointment with my fourth doctor is now scheduled, and while July 12th won’t get here soon enough, at least I know that there is some relief; a light at the end of the tunnel.  Until then, here I sit with a bottle of lemon juice and some lemon candies, trying to salivate enough to alleviate the stone that has been the bane of my existence for the last few months.

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6 Responses to On my salivary gland

  1. tampasailor says:

    Well, what happened?

  2. Andy says:

    Well, they cut it open again:

    https://thenewrambleon.wordpress.com/2012/08/02/on-my-salivary-gland-vol-2/

    It’s remained relatively swollen (more so than the gland on the other side), but it doesn’t hurt anymore. I visited a doctor who’s the go-to guy to see on all things salivary gland and he gave it the all-clear, so I’m done messing around with it unless another problem arises.

  3. Vicki Huddleston says:

    I like your story, however it’s not helping me look at the positive side of developing this condition last night! It’s really painful annoying and disconcerting! I wanted to stick a needle in my mouth and break up the little pus saliva filled knot in my neck from the inside of my mouth, ( that’s how I found your story) but now I’m scared I will poke a nerve and have a droopy face the rest of my life. Thank God I have doctors appointment on Thursday but at least thanks to your story I know death is not an option! I just want them to stick a needle in their and suck out obstruction. We’ll see, thanks for the informative and humorous story, now I know what I’m up against, it’s nice to know I’m going to live through it, I hope I can laugh about it afterwards like you do.

    • Andy says:

      Vicki,

      It was a pain (literally and figuratively) for quite a while. I’m a teacher and on one of my field trips my mouth was bleeding all day long, so I spent a lot of the day spitting out blood and puss. Since my ENT lanced it and stitched it up last time, I haven’t had any issues since. The scariest part was probably waiting for the results after they biopsied some of the skin around the gland, but other than those few days, I can mostly laugh about the nuisance in my mouth.

      Good luck with your salivary gland and I hope they get to the bottom of the problem soon!

  4. Tom says:

    I was at the dentist 2 days ago with zero issues and he did a crown prep on one of my lower teeth, however this time around he accidentally cut the skin of my sublingual gland so there was quite a bit of blood at the time.

    The result 2 days post dentistry is that I have a swollen sublingual gland, it’s not painful at all and the bleeding stopped within a few hours of he dental surgery but the swelling remains after 2 days.

    I expected the swelling to be gone by now but it remains the same size (I think) as when the day after having the crown prep done. This has me super petrified, should I be so? Or is it normal that sublingual gland swelling can take more than a couple of days to start to go down?

    Thanks

    • Andy says:

      Tom,

      I can only speak from my own experience, and I am no medical professional. However, after my salivary gland was lanced and stitched back up, the swelling and pain were there for about two weeks. My ENT was great and told me if anything didn’t feel right to make sure I called the office and told them I had an emergency and he would see me immediately. If something isn’t feeling right for you, it’s probably a good idea to call your doctor to check in.

      But again, I’m no medical professional. That’s just what I would probably do if I were in your situation.

      Good luck, man. Salivary gland issues are a literal and figurative pain.

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