Salivary Gland Disease

Salivary Gland Disease Image

Saliva isn’t just for baseball players or 9-year-olds. Saliva (or spit) plays an important part in your health. This substance kick-starts the digestive process, protects dental health and helps physicians evaluate your overall health.

Saliva is manufactured by the salivary glands, which are located throughout your mouth. You have three pairs of major salivary glands, as well as several hundred minor salivary glands, all delivering saliva to your mouth through salivary ducts.

The major salivary glands are:

  • Parotid glands: Situated in your upper cheeks, behind your ears
  • Sublingual glands: Found beneath your tongue
  • Submandibular glands: Located in the floor of the mouth.

Common Problems with Salivary Glands

The two biggest challenges to proper functioning of the salivary glands are blockages and infection. In both situations, saliva doesn’t flow as it should, which can result in salivary gland pain and considerable discomfort.

The salivary glands also need to produce the right amount of saliva; too much and sialorrhea results, too little and dry mouth becomes an issue.

Overview of Salivary Gland Disease and Problems

A variety conditions give rise to problems with the salivary glands. For example, dry mouth, or xerostomia, can be traced to both salivary gland disease and medication use. Here’s a brief overview of some of the more common problems with salivary glands:

  • Benign tumors: Most frequently seen in adults, most benign tumors are found in the parotid salivary glands. Depending in their size, they may cause salivary gland pain.
  • Cancer of the salivary glands: Salivary gland cancer is rare, with exposure to radiation and Sjogren’s syndrome the only known risk factors.
  • Cysts: May be found in infants, or they can develop after injuries to the salivary glands
  • Dry mouth (xerostomia): Xerostomia can be caused by disease, medication use and aging. Severe dry mouth can lead to serious dental consequences, such as tooth decay.
  • Parotitis: Mumps and AIDS are frequent causes of this swelling in the largest of the salivary glands, the parotid. Parotitis can cause significant salivary gland pain.
  • Sialadenitis: Either a blockage or bacterial infection can cause this salivary gland disease, which can result in significant salivary gland pain.
  • Sialadenosis: This condition, not usually associated with salivary gland pain, causes enlarged salivary glands, and has no clear-cut cause.
  • Sialolithiasis: These are non-cancerous stones found in the salivary ducts. They can lead to salivary gland pain, but are generally readily treatable.
  • Sialorrhea: This condition, sometimes linked to nerve damage, results in excessive drooling.
  • Sjogren’s Syndrome: This autoimmune disorder causes the body to attack the salivary glands, the tear ducts and other bodily organs. Chronic dry mouth is one of many potential complications.

Resources

American Academy of Otolaryngology. (n.d.). Salivary glands. Retrieved September 27, 2010, from http://www.entnet.org/HealthInformation/salivaryGlands.cfm.

Cohen, R. (2006). Salivary gland disorders. Retrieved September 27, 2010, from http://www.merck.com/mmhe/sec08/ch111/ch111a.html.

Colgate. (2005). What is parotitis? Retrieved September 30, 2010, from http://www.colgate.com/app/Colgate/US/OC/Information/OralHealthBasics/MedCondOralHealth/PhysDisorderOralEffects/Parotitis.cvsp.

Harvard Health Publications. (2007). Salivary gland disorders. Retrieved September 27, 2010, from http://www.healthcentral.com/symptoms/guide-154759-75.html.

Harvard Medical School. (2007). Salivary gland disorders. Retrieved September 27, 2010, from http://www.intelihealth.com/IH/ihtPrint/WSIHW000/9339/31106.html?hide=t