Salivary gland disorders

Definition

Salivary gland disorders are conditions that lead to swelling or pain in the saliva-producing tissues around the mouth.

Causes

The salivary glands produce saliva (spit), which moistens food to aid chewing and swallowing. Saliva contains enzymes that begin the digestion process. Saliva also cleans the mouth by washing away bacteria and food particles. Saliva keeps the mouth moist and helps keep dentures or orthodontic appliances (such as retainers) in place.

There are three pairs of salivary glands:

  • The two largest are the parotid glands, one in each cheek in front of the ears
  • Two glands are under the floor of the mouth (sublingual glands)
  • Two glands are at the back of the mouth on both sides of the jaw (submandibular glands)

All of the salivary glands empty saliva into the mouth through ducts that open at various locations in the mouth.

The salivary glands may become inflamed (irritated) because of infection, tumors, or stones.

Related topics:

Symptoms

Exams and Tests

Tests vary depending on the condition thought to be causing the problem.

Treatment

Drinking a lot of water, using sugar-free lemon drops to increase the flow of saliva, and applying external heat may help with infections and stones.

Antibiotics are used for bacterial infections.

Stones may be removed using endoscopes, lithotripsy, or surgery.

Other treatments depend on the specific disorder.

Outlook (Prognosis)

Most salivary gland disorders respond well to treatment.

Possible Complications

Complications depend on the specific disorder.

When to Contact a Medical Professional

ALWAYS call your health care provider if you have symptoms of a salivary gland disorder.

Prevention

Most of the problems with salivary glands cannot be prevented. Drinking enough fluids, using things that increase salivation (for example, sour candy), and massaging the gland can increase the flow of saliva and help prevent infection.

References

Elluru RG. Physiology of the salivary glands. In: Cummings CW, Flint PW, Haughey BH, et al, eds. Otolaryngology: Head & Neck Surgery. 5th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Mosby Elsevier; 2010:chap 84.

Lacey J. Diagnostic imaging and fine-needle aspiration of the salivary glands. In: Cummings CW, Flint PW, Haughey BH, et al, eds. Otolaryngology: Head & Neck Surgery. 5th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Mosby Elsevier; 2010:chap 85.

Rogers J, McCaffrey TV. Inflammatory disorders of the salivary glands. In: Cummings CW, Flint PW, Haughey BH, et al, eds. Otolaryngology: Head & Neck Surgery. 5th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Mosby Elsevier; 2010:chap 86.


Review Date: 9/18/2012
Reviewed By: A.D.A.M. Health Solutions, Ebix, Inc., Editorial Team: David Zieve, MD, MHA, and David R. Eltz. Previously reviewed by Linda J. Vorvick, MD, Medical Director, MEDEX Northwest Division of Physician Assistant Studies, University of Washington, School of Medicine; and Seth Schwartz, MD, MPH, Otolaryngologist, Virginia Mason Medical Center, Seattle, Washington (3/5/2011).
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