Salivary gland disorders
Salivary gland disorders are conditions that lead to swelling or pain in the saliva-producing tissues around the mouth.
Causes, incidence, and risk factors
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.
- Abnormal tastes, foul tastes
- Decreased ability to open the mouth
- Discomfort when opening the mouth
- Dry mouth
- Pain in the face or mouth pain
- Swelling in front of the ears
- Swelling of the face or neck
Signs and tests
Tests vary depending on the condition thought to be causing the problem.
- Images of the glands can be seen using ultrasound, MRI scan, and CT scans of the glands.
- The ducts of the mouth can be investigated using an x-ray called a sialogram.
- A salivary gland biopsy can be used to diagnose problems with the salivary glands.
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.
Other treatments depend on the specific disorder.
Most salivary gland disorders respond well to treatment.
Complications depend on the specific disorder.
Calling your health care provider
ALWAYS call your health care provider if you have symptoms of a salivary gland disorder.
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.
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.
Last reviewed 9/18/2012 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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