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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 to 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 sublingual glands are under the floor of the mouth
  • Two submandibular glands are at the back of the mouth on both sides of the jaw

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
Signs and tests

Tests vary depending on the suspected disorder.

Support Groups

Expectations (prognosis)

Most salivary gland disorders respond well to treatment. See the specific disorders.

Calling your health care provider

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

Complications

See the specific disorders.

Treatments

The treatment varies depending on the specific disorder.

Prevention

Most of the problems with salivary glands are not preventable. Adequate hydration, use of sialogogues (things that increase salivation -- for example, sour candy), and massage of the gland can increase salivary flow and help prevent infection.


Review Date: 3/3/2009
Reviewed By: James L. Demetroulakos, MD, FACS, Department of Otolaryngology, North Shore Medical Center, Salem, MA. Clinical Instructor in Otology and Laryngology, Harvard Medical School. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.
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