What is Your Wharton’s Duct and Why is it Important?

What is Your Wharton’s Duct and Why is it Important?
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What is Your Wharton’s Duct and Why is it Important?Clinical Content Reviewed by Dr. Jay Khorsandi, DDS
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Table of Contents

  1. Wharton’s Duct Location
  2. Why It Matters & Common Issues
  3. Where Does the Name Come From?
  4. References

You’ve probably never thought about your Wharton’s duct. In fact, chances are you’ve never even heard of it.

But this salivary tube plans a major role in the dental health of humans. Also referred as the submandibular duct, the Wharton’s duct is a thin tube about five-centimeters in length and one to three-millimeters in width. It carries saliva into your mouth and helps it move through your mouth, a key component to helping you eat, drink and prevent cavities.

Every person has two of these tubes in their mouth, positioned on the left and right sides. On an anatomy chart, the Wharton’s duct starts at the lingue nerve and moves toward the frenulum located beneath your tongue.

The presence of saliva is important for maintaining proper dental and oral health. Though Wharton’s duct issues are not common, they can present a variety of health problems if they do arise.

Wharton’s Duct Location

Locating your Wharton’s duct with your naked eye can be somewhat difficult. To do so, you’ll need to point the tip of your tongue toward the roof of your mouth and locate the frenulum.

Your Wharton’s duct is positioned at the floor of your mouth, beneath and behind your front teeth and close to your frenulum. It connects on both the left and right sides of your mouth beneath your tongue. The openings that allow saliva into the mouth are called sublingual caruncles.

Why Is It Important and What Are Common Issues Associated with It?

Saliva seems like a benign substance in your mouth. It’s not. It’s important to your oral health.

Saliva helps you chew, speak and drink properly. It also keeps your mouth free of problematic bacteria.

Having troubles with a Wharton’s duct is not typical, but when issues with them arise they can lead a variety of complications. Common problems include:

  • Block ducts due to calcified material. This is referred to as a salivary stone. Salivary stones keep saliva from entering the mouth and performing its basic function.
  • Dry mouth. Salivary stones can lead to dry mouth, referred to medically as xerostomia. Dry mouth can lead to dental health issues like cavities and gum disease.
  • Bad breath. Saliva keeps bacteria in check within your mouth. When a salivary stone keeps saliva out of your mouth, bad breath, or halitosis, can occur. Brushing, flossing and using mouthwash or chewing gum won’t correct bad breath related to a salivary stone for long.
  • Infection. Salivary stones can lead to infection within the mouth. The Wharton’s duct and associated area within the mouth may also have pus present. An abscess in the area is also a possibility when infections are left to linger without treatment for any length of time.

You may not notice Wharton’s duct-related issues until you feel pain or tenderness in that general area. Swelling, fever, chills and drainage are signs that there may be a more pressing issue or that infection has already occurred.

Wharton’s duct issues are generally treated by a maxillofacial surgeon, as minor surgical intervention is commonly required to get rid of a salivary stone. Your doctor may prescribe antibiotics before or after removal of a surgical stone as well.

Where Does the Name Come From?

Like many parts of the body, the Wharton’s duct is named after the person who found it. Discovered by an English scientist named Thomas Wharton, who lived and worked between 1610 and 1673, this unique piece of anatomy was previously unknown.

A specialist in head and neck anatomy, Wharton also went on to find and name the thyroid gland. He spent a time mapping and studying the pancreas as well.

References

Submandibular Duct. Radeopaedia. Date fetched: September 12, 2021.

Thomas Wharton. Encyclopedia.com. Date fetched: September 12, 2021.

Obstructive Wharton Duct Sialadenitis00378-9/fulltext). (July 2015). Journal of Emergency Medicine. Date fetched: September 12, 2021.

Salivary Gland Infection (Sialadenitis). Johns Hopkins Medicine. Date fetched: September 12, 2021.

Disclaimer: This article is intended to promote understanding of and knowledge about general oral health topics. It is not intended to serve as dental or other professional health advice and is not intended to be used for diagnosis or treatment of any condition or symptom. You should consult a dentist or other qualified healthcare provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition or treatment.

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