Are Salivary Gland Disorders?
Your salivary glands produce saliva, which keeps your mouth
moist, helps protect your teeth from rapid decay, and helps you to digest your food.
The salivary glands are relatively small, and they’re around the inner linings
of your mouth, lips, and cheeks.
A number of diseases can affect your salivary glands. These range
from cancerous tumors to Sjogren’s syndrome. While some go away with time or
antibiotics, others require more serious treatments, including surgery.
Causes Salivary Gland Disorders?
You have three paired salivary glands called the parotid,
submandibular, and sublingual glands. They are responsible for producing
saliva. The most common cause of salivary gland problems is blocked salivary glands,
which can cause painful symptoms.
Sialolithiasis and sialadenitis are problems that can occur in
the salivary glands. Sialolithiasis occurs when stones made of calcium form in
the salivary glands. These stones can block the glands, which can partially or
completely stop the flow of saliva.
Sialadenitis (or sialoadenitis) is an infection involving a
salivary gland. It often results from stones blocking the gland. Staph or strep bacteria
can cause this infection. Older adults and infants are most likely to develop
Sjogren’s syndrome is another common salivary gland disorder. It
occurs when white blood cells target healthy cells in moisture-producing
glands, such as the salivary, sweat, and oil glands. This condition most
commonly affects women with autoimmune disorders, such as lupus.
Viruses also can affect the salivary glands. These include:
- flu virus
- Coxsackie virus
Cancerous and noncancerous tumors may develop in the salivary
glands as well. Cancerous tumors of the salivary glands are rare. They
typically occur between ages 50 and 60, according to Cedars-Sinai
Noncancerous tumors that can affect the parotid glands include
pleomorphic adenomas and Warthin’s tumors. Benign pleomorphic adenomas can also
grow in the submandibular gland and the minor salivary glands, but this is
Are the Symptoms of a Salivary Gland Disorder?
The symptoms of sialolithiasis include:
- a painful lump under the tongue
- pain that increases when eating
Sialadenitis symptoms include:
- a lump in your cheek or under your chin
- pus that drains into your mouth
- strong or foul-smelling pus
- a fever
Cysts that grow in your salivary glands can cause:
- yellow mucus that drains upon bursting
- difficulty eating
- difficulty speaking
- difficulty swallowing
Viral infections in the salivary glands, such as mumps, can
- muscle aches
- joint pain
- swelling on both sides of the face
The symptoms of Sjogren’s syndrome include:
- dry mouth
- dry eyes
- tooth decay
- sores in the mouth
- joint pain or swelling
- dry cough
- unexplained fatigue
- swollen salivary glands
- frequent salivary gland infections
If you have diabetes or alcoholism, you may also have swelling in
the salivary glands.
If you notice the following symptoms, see your doctor:
- a bad taste in your mouth
- dry mouth
- mouth pain
- facial swelling
- trouble opening your mouth
Are Salivary Gland Disorders Diagnosed?
Your doctor will recommend testing based on your medical history
and a physical exam. However, some cases are quite obvious from the history and
physical exam. In such cases, diagnostic tests may not be necessary.
Your doctor may want to see the blockage to diagnose a salivary
gland obstruction. Taking a dental X-ray of the affected area can help to
pinpoint the obstruction. A head and neck surgeon can then use anesthesia to
numb the salivary gland opening and free any blockage.
If your doctor needs to finely target the salivary glands, an MRI
or CT scan can provide more in-depth images. Also, a biopsy to remove salivary
gland tissue can aid in diagnosis, particularly if your doctor suspects you may
have an autoimmune disorder that affects your salivary glands.
Are Salivary Gland Disorders Treated?
Treatment for salivary gland disorders depends on the disease
type and how advanced it is.
For example, if you have a mass in your salivary gland, your doctor
may recommend surgery to remove the mass or the gland itself. If the mass is
cancerous, you may need radiation treatments to kill off cancerous cells. These
treatments won’t typically start until your body has had time to heal. This is
typically four to six weeks after surgery.
Radiation treatments to the neck can cause dry mouth, which can
be uncomfortable and affect your digestion. Your doctor may recommend drinking
more fluids and avoiding foods high in sodium.
If the salivary gland mass isn’t cancerous, radiation may not be
required. A mass that doesn’t cause symptoms may be treated with conservative
measures. This includes special mouthwashes to relieve dry mouth.
Antibiotics can treat bacterial infections.
Taking good care of your teeth is vital to successful salivary
gland treatment. Brushing and flossing your teeth at least twice a day can help
prevent salivary gland disorders and tooth decay. You can keep your mouth moist
by rinsing with a mixture of 1/2 teaspoon of salt in 1 cup of water.