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What Is a Sialography?

By Jacquelyn Gilchrist
Updated May 17, 2024
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Sialography is the x-ray imaging of a patient's salivary glands, as well as the ducts connected to them. Commonly called a sialogram, this is a diagnostic test that a doctor may use to determine the cause of any abnormalities of the salivary glands. These glands are responsible for providing the mouth with saliva, and they are on both sides of a person's face. A sialography may reveal problems like salivary duct stones, a salivary gland infection, or a narrowing of the ducts connected to the glands.

Prior to undergoing a sialography, patients will meet with their doctors to discuss their medical condition and preparation for the test. Generally, patients will not need to restrict food or fluid intake beforehand. Some people, however, may prefer to receive a sedative if they are nervous about the medical test. Those who plan to be sedated may receive specific dietary instructions.

Patients will also need to inform their doctors if they have any allergies, particularly any allergies to iodine substances or x-ray contrast materials. Drug allergies should also be discussed. Women who are pregnant or breastfeeding should discuss the potential risks with their doctors. Many hospitals and clinics require patients undergoing a sialography to sign a consent form.

When the patient arrives at the hospital, a lab technician will have him rinse his mouth with an antiseptic solution. If he has very little saliva production, he may be given lemon juice to place in the mouth. This stimulates the salivary glands to release saliva.

After the patient lies on the examining table, the sialography begins with an injection of contrast dye. The x-ray technician will inject the contrast material into a duct located at the bottom of the patient's mouth. This allows the sialogram to more clearly show areas of the mouth that may be presenting problems. While this is not a painful procedure, some patients have reported that the contrast dye tastes unpleasant. It may also cause temporary sensations of pressure or general discomfort.

Following the injection of the contrast material, the technician will take x-rays from several different angles of the patient's mouth. Sometimes, the technician will first take x-rays, then introduce lemon juice into the patient's mouth, and take more x-rays. Sialography performed in this manner allows the neuroradiologist to see if there is a saliva drainage problem.

Generally, patients are able to return to their normal activities immediately following the sialography. If they are given a sedative, they may be monitored for a period of time, and should not drive themselves back home. There is typically very little risk associated with sialography, however some patients report minor swelling and tenderness of the area. Small amounts of radiation are used, however children and pregnant women may be more sensitive to this.

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