What is Going on with Your Salivary Glands?

Your salivary glands are responsible for producing about a quart of saliva each day, so they are obviously pretty important for your oral health. However, like other parts of your body, they can experience problems. If you notice unusual swelling in your mouth or neck, it could be due to a problem with your salivary glands.

Understanding the Salivary Glands

The salivary glands are found in and around the throat and mouth. The major glands are known as the sublingual, submandibular, and parotid glands, and despite their different names, the all secrete saliva into your mouth from various locations.

In addition to these main glands, there are a variety of tiny glands known as minor salivary glands that can be located in the inner cheek, lips, and linings of the throat and mouth. They serve a vital function in your mouth by producing saliva that will keep your oral cavity moist, initiate digestion, and protect the teeth from decay.

Obstruction

Salivary flow obstruction most commonly occurs with the submandibular and parotid salivary glands, and generally this obstruction is due to the formation of stones. Sialoliths, or salivary stones, are the most common cause of swollen glands, and they consist of buildups of saliva deposits that have crystallized.

When they block the ducts, saliva won’t be able to exit, and it will back up into the gland to cause swelling and pain. This pain is usually inconsistent, felt in one gland, and will worsen with time. Unless you are able to clear the blockage, the gland will usually become infected.

Another possibility is that you may have an abnormality with the duct system that connects the major salivary glands in the mouth. At times, these ducts may develop small constrictions that can decrease salivary flow. When this occurs, obstructive symptoms and infection may result.

Infections

If you are experiencing a problem with your salivary glands, an infection may be the culprit. However, there are a variety of infections that could affect this part of your body:

  • Viral infections. Certain viruses can also impact the salivary glands, including mumps, the flu, echovirus, and Coxsackie virus. Swelling of the salivary glands is commonly associated with mumps, occurring in up to 40% of all infections. Symptoms may include fever, joint pain, muscle aches, headache, and swelling to the side of the face. .
  • Bacterial infections. These types of infections most commonly affect the parotid gland, and they typically cause swelling on one side. Other symptoms could include pain and fever, and malnutrition and dehydration can heighten your risk of developing one of these infections.
  • Secondary infections. It is also possible that you may develop a secondary infection of the salivary glands due to the nearby lymph nodes. The lymph nodes are structures found in the upper neck that can become sore if you have a sore throat. Many of these nodes are actually located on or within the major salivary glands.

When they are enlarged due to infection, you could be left with red and painful swelling around the glands.

Cysts or Tumors

Cysts and tumors can also cause problems with the salivary glands. If an injury or infection blocks the flow of saliva, a cyst can develop, and this can interfere with speaking and eating.

Some babies are even born with cysts within the parotid gland due to problems with their ear development, and this will appear similar to a blister. Tumors are more uncommon, but Warthin’s tumors and pleomorphic adenomas can both affect the salivary glands.

If you are concerned that you might have a problem with your salivary glands or another area of your mouth, give our office a call to set up an appointment.

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