Everyone has heard of the canker sore, one of the most annoying and most common (but ultimately harmless) lumps and bumps you can get in your mouth. Another common sore you might not have heard of is the mucocele, which is a small cyst that forms due to some sort of blockage or agitation of a salivary gland. How do they form, what do they look like, and—most importantly—when do they go away? Let’s take a look!
The mouth has tons of salivary glands, which (as the name suggests) is where saliva is produced. If a salivary gland becomes blocked or damaged, saliva can get backed up and form a cyst, which will feel like a soft bump in the lining of your mouth—this is a mucocele. Mucoceles most commonly form in the inner lip, but they can also be found on the tongue, cheek or even on the roof of your mouth. There are similar cysts that form on the floor of your mouth, but these are referred to as ranula and, while they share similar characteristics to mucoceles, they have a tendency to be larger.
A mucocele is generally 2-10 millimeters in diameter, which is quite small. They are soft, round and slightly dome-shaped, and can feel movable. They’re usually white or bluish in color, depending on how deeply it penetrates into the tissue. The deeper ones do tend to be more tender and irritated, though this isn’t as common.
So, how do you damage your salivary gland in the first place? It’s actually easier and more common than you think! Simply biting down on your lip or cheek can do the trick, or it can become clogged by debris in the mouth or by bacteria. Piercings can also cause a salivary gland to become blocked or damaged, so pay close attention to any lumps, bumps or swelling after you receive any oral piercings.
Like canker sores, mucoceles are harmless and usually resolve themselves within a week or two. As tempting as it may seem to nibble or play with a mucocele, do your best to leave it alone so it doesn’t become infected. That means no popping it, either! If you find it mildly irritating, try doing warm salt water rinses several times a day, or use an over the counter pain reliever.
In rare instances, mucoceles can become large and infected, or they simply stick around for far too long. In these cases, your doctor or dentist may want to remove either the cyst itself or the salivary gland—this is also a likely scenario if you have a reoccurring mucocele. This is usually a minor procedure in which the area is numbed using local anesthesia, and a scalpel is used to cut away the cyst or the gland. Sometimes, they’ll close off the gland using a small stitch, which is then removed after about a week. In other cases, your doctor or dentist may use topical medications, steroid injections, or cryotherapy to remove the mucocele from your mouth.
Mucoceles are fairly common benign cysts that are usually no more than a passing annoyance. With a little patience, that tiny bump should disappear on its own in no time. However, if your mucocele is becoming larger and more painful, or if it’s in an area that is causing a lot of irritation or any sort of inhibition of normal chewing or swallowing, call your doctor or dentist to have it examined. There are lots of different ways it can be treated, and you should be back in tip-top shape in no time.