Saliva has the important roles of lubricating the mouth, assisting with swallowing, protecting teeth against bacteria and aiding with digestion of food. Saliva is produced by salivary glands; the three major pairs are the parotid glands inside the cheeks, submandibular glands at the floor of the mouth and sublingual glands under the tongue.
There are also several hundred minor salivary glands throughout the mouth and throat. They drain into the mouth through small tubes called ducts. When there is an issue with the glands or ducts, you may experience pain, discomfort and other problems. Common salivary gland problems are listed below.
Salivary stones are a common cause of swollen salivary glands. They occur when crystalized saliva deposits build up, blocking flow of saliva. Because saliva can’t exit through the ducts, it backs into the gland. This results in intermittent pain, usually felt in one gland, which gets progressively worse. The blockage must be cleared or infection can result.
Salivary Gland Infection
Bacterial infection of the salivary gland occurs when the duct to the mouth becomes blocked. Most commonly, the parotid gland is prone to infection, also called sialadenitis. Symptoms include painful lump in the gland and foul-tasting pus.
This condition is most common in older adults with salivary stones, but can also happen to babies within a few weeks of birth. Untreated salivary gland infections can lead to severe pain, high fever and abscesses.
Cysts can develop in the salivary glands if there is an injury, infection, tumor or salivary stone blocking saliva flow. Some babies who have problems with development in the ears are born with cysts in the parotid gland. They can present as a blister or soft raised area and may interfere with eating and speaking.
There are several types of tumors that can affect the salivary glands, which can be either malignant (cancerous) or benign (noncancerous). The two most common tumors affecting salivary glands are pleomorphic adenomas and Warthin’s tumor.
Pleomorphic adenomas typically affect the parotid glands but may also affect the submandibular gland or minor salivary glands. This type of tumor is benign, painless and slow-growing. They occur most commonly in women.
Warthin’s tumor is also benign, affecting primarily the parotid gland. These tumors can grow on both sides of the face and typically affect men.
Malignant salivary gland tumors include mucoepidermoid carcinoma, adenocarcinoma carcinoma, adenocarcinoma, low-grade polymorphous adenocarcinoma and malignant mixed tumor.
For more information or to schedule an appointment, call PDX ENT today.