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The sublingual caruncle is one of two matching structures located below the tongue where the submandibular gland drains into the mouth. These structures take the form of small papilla that can be visible on an examination of the oral cavity. In studies of oral anatomy, doctors and dentists learn to identify the sublingual caruncle and to differentiate it from other structures in the area, as well as malignant growths that might be mistaken for anatomical structures, or vice versa.
These structures can be found on either side of the frenulum. They mark the opening of the submandibular duct, also known as the Wharton duct, that leads from the salivary glands into the mouth. As the second largest set of salivary glands, the submandibular glands play an important role in the lubrication of the mouth. The saliva they produce helps keep the oral membranes moist and flexible.
Production of saliva at the site of the sublingual caruncle can increase in response to certain environmental factors. Saliva helps lubricate food during chewing and swallowing, and thus eating can cause an uptick in saliva, especially with certain kinds of foods. Sour foods notoriously create an upwelling of saliva as they come into contact with the taste buds and send signals to the salivary glands. Patients may notice the flow of saliva from specific areas of the mouth, like under the tongue, just prior to eating or in response to food smells.
If a patient produces too much saliva, the area around the sublingual caruncle can be flooded with liquid and may cause discomfort for the patient. Patients can also develop swelling as a result of inflammation and infection in this area of the mouth or in the gland itself. Changes to the appearance of the sublingual caruncle can be indicative of a more serious underlying disease process, like a cancer, although this is not always the case.
Care providers usually become familiar with the broad spectrum of anatomical variations in their patients, and may take note of any changes in a patient's normal anatomy. If the sublingual caruncle appears swollen, discolored, or misshapen, a doctor may want to take a closer look. Sometimes a biopsy may be recommended to explore the cause for the changes. This can provide a doctor with a glimpse of the cells inside, along with a small sample of saliva to check for abnormalities to determine if the patient is experiencing anything of concern.