Salivary Glands are the part of the mouth that produces about a quart of saliva every day. You must be wondering, why generate that much saliva? Saliva is actually very important, probably more than you can imagine.
The roles of salivary glands are:
- neutralizes acids
- aids in swallowing
- protects the teeth from bacteria
- lubricates the mouth and helping food to be digested in the mouth
There are three major pairs of salivary glands.
1) parotid glands that are on the sides of the face
2) submandibular glands located at the floor of the mouth
3) sublingual glands that can be found under the tongue
Minor salivary glands are located throughout the mouth and throat. The mouth drains the saliva through small tubes called ducts.
Symptoms of Salivary Gland Problems
When there is a problem with any of these salivary glands or the ducts, symptoms arise such as:
- dry mouth
- swelling of salivary gland
- foul-tasting drainage inside the mouth
Causes of Salivary Gland Problems
Salivary gland problems can be caused by numerous factors. These include:
1) Salivary Stones (Sialoliths)
Also called sialoliths, salivary stones are the most common cause of problems in the salivary glands. These stones are crystallized saliva deposits that have accumulated and can possibly block the saliva flow. When the saliva is not able to drain through the ducts, it goes back to the gland and causes pain and swelling. The pain, which starts as mild, can progress and worsen until the blockage is cleared. If it is not, the gland becomes infected.
2) Salivary Gland Infection (Sialadenitis)
Salivary gland infection, which is also known as sialadenitis, refers to the bacterial infection of the salivary gland. The most commonly affected are the parotid glands. It happens when the duct into the mouth is blocked and the infection creates a painful lump and foul-tasting drainage into the mouth. This infection is very common among adults with salivary stones but it can also affect babies. If left untreated, this salivary gland infection can lead to high fever, severe pain, and abscess.
3) Infections and Viral Illnesses
- mumps and flu:
Mumps and flu are some viral infections that can cause salivary glands to swell. About 30 to 40 percent of mumps cases lead to salivary gland swelling. This usually starts about 48 hours after the onset of other symptoms like headache and fever.
Other viral illnesses that can also bring problem to the salivary glands include:
- Coxsackie virus
- cytomegalovirus (CMV)
- Epstein-Barr virus (EBV)
- human immunodeficiency virus (HIV)
Some types of tumors, whether malignant or benign, can affect the salivary glands.
Such examples are:
- pleomorphic adenomas:
This tumor commonly affects the parotid glands but it can also cause swelling of the submandibular glands and the minor salivary glands.
- Warthin's tumor:
This tumor also affects the parotid glands. This one can grow on both sides of the face.