What is a mucocele?

A mucocele is a dome-shaped mucus-filled cyst located on the inner lining of the mouth (oral mucosa). The mouth cavity contains numerous minor salivary glands. These glands are present all over the oral mucosa. The trauma or obstruction of these glands causes accumulation of fluids below the mucosa. This phenomenon gives rise to the elevated swelling known as a mucocele. It is not a serious condition and the cyst does not rupture on applying pressure.

What are the symptoms of a mucocele?

A mucocele starts as a painless small swelling on the inner lining of the mouth. It resembles a boil in size and shape but it lacks the pus since it is not due to infection. Instead a mucocele has a bluish color and is filled with clear fluid containing saliva and mucous. The swelling is recurrent in nature. In certain cases it may be persist over a prolonged period.

The size of the mucocele can vary from anywhere between 1 millimeter to 1 centimeter in diameter. During an after meals the mucocele may fluctuate in size. A mucocele is movable and the consistency may vary according to the content of the fluids.

The most common site to develop a mucocele is the inner part of the lower lip. The other sites include the palate, cheek, and tongue and paranasal sinuses. Mucoceles are generally painful. A mucocele below the tongue can restrict tongue movement and speech. It is fairly larger in size than other lesions.

What are the causes of a mucocele?

A mucocele is a very common disorder which can affect any age group and both males and females equally. The mucocele located below the tongue (ranula), is more common in children. Mucocele develops more commonly in people with habits like lip biting or cheek biting or nail biting. The repeated irritation and trauma due to these habits can cause injuries to salivary glands. On repeated injuries these glands may get obstructed or damaged. Such damaged glands are more likely to develop a mucocele.

Inflammation of the sinuses and oral piercings are also factors that contribute to the formation of a mucocele. As the mucocele is formed due to obstruction of salivary glands, the size and severity of the lesion depends upon the location and degree to which the salivary gland affected. Therefore a mucocele below the tongue is usually larger in size.

What is the treatment for a mucocele?

In the initial stages, small lesions do not need any treatment. Apart from some discomfort, these mall lesion disappear on its own within a span of a few days. Salt water gargles are helpful in reducing mucocele. A dental check-up is required when the lesion becomes recurrent. In such cases patient is advised to quit habits such as lip biting.

As the cyst becomes large it causes problems in speech, eating or becomes very painful. In such cases surgical removal (excision) is the preferred method of treatment. It may be a partial or complete excision. Both partial or complete removal surgical procedures are carried out under local anesthesia.

The partial excision includes draining the fluids present inside the mucocele. The complete excision includes complete removal of the cyst and the corresponding salivary gland. The site of the mucocele is thoroughly irrigated .Other methods include cryosurgery, injections and treatment using laser.

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