JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - If you suffer from salivary gland stones, you know how irritating they can be. The standard treatment is surgery, which can be risky and leave a huge scar.
For a teenage girl, that can be emotionally scarring. Now, there is a new, super tiny technology that allows surgeons to remove those stones without using the scalpel.
Seara Schoenbeck, 13, enjoyed a healthy childhood until about two years ago when she started having pain in her mouth.
"I thought it was a cold sore," Schoenbeck said. "But then it kept on getting bigger and burst, and it kept on doing that over and over."
A stone was stuck in one of her submandibular glands and had to come out. The standard procedure is to surgically remove the entire gland.
"I was so scared about them going inside my neck," Schoenbeck said.
That's because there are several important nerves nearby that could get damaged. The thought of having an inch-and-a-half long scar was also tough for Schoenbeck to swallow.
"To see her scared and worried hurt me," Richard Schoenbeck, Seara's father, said.
That's when Richard Schoenbeck went online and discovered a minimally invasive alternative called sialendoscopy, performed by Dr. Gary Josephson at Nemours Children's Clinic.
"We can leave the glands alone and we can go in and take care of the problem," Josephson said.
Josephson entered the salivary duct and gland through the floor of the mouth using a diagnostic scope with a camera the size of a toothpick.
"While you're doing this, you're watching," said Josephson. "You're doing it off the monitor, so it looks to me like it's a giant."
Once the camera is in, saline is run through the duct to keep it open, and a tiny drill is inserted to break up the stone and flush out the pieces.
If needed, a tiny wire basket is used to catch and pull out any remains.
"When we're done with this, there's minimal pain and you usually just need Tylenol or Motrin for a day and they're good to go," Josephson explained.
Good to go, and extremely grateful.
"Grateful that I live in a technology world," says Schoenbeck.
Schoenbeck was put under anesthesia for the procedure, but was able to leave the hospital the same day. She was back to normal in less than 24 hours. Compare that to the standard procedure that would require at least one or two days in the hospital and a longer recovery due to the incision and removal of the gland.
Josephson said Schoenbeck is his oldest sialendoscopy patient to date. He's performed the procedure on children as young as 6-years-old.
If a surgeon is unable to remove the stone endoscopically, the gland would still have to be removed.
If you suffer from salivary gland stones, talk to your specialist about the best options for you. Insurance companies typically cover the procedure.
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