The mouth is one of the most versatile and important organs in the body, and it is necessary for breathing, speaking, and eating. Because this organ has such a wide variety of functions and is exposed to many external environmental factors, it is at an increased risk for the development of infection.
You may not know it, but your salivary glands are a very important mechanism for maintaining your mouth’s oral health and are constantly at work. The purpose of your salivary glands is to create saliva which moistens your mouth and makes it easier to chew and swallow your food. They also assist in cleaning your mouth and protecting your teeth from decay by producing antibodies that can kill the germs in your mouth.
There are three major pairs of salivary glands:
- Paratoid Glands are located in the upper back of the mouth near the ears and along the upper area of the cheek. These glands release saliva at the back of the jaw near the molars and are responsible for moistening the top and sides of the mouth.
- Submandibular Glands are located in the floor of the mouth. These glands release saliva behind the lower front teeth and are responsible for moistening the front of the mouth.
- Sublingual Glands are located beneath the tongue and moisten the entire floor of the mouth.
In addition to the three large pairs of glands, there are also nearly 1,000 tiny glands delivering saliva throughout the mouth and throat which are located on the
- Back of the throat
- Inner lips
- Inner cheeks
- Rear of the tongue
Unfortunately, these important organs are subject to infection as they are in constant contact with external elements such as food and airborne germs and pollens. Some of the most common salivary gland infections include the following:
Sialolithiasis (salivary gland stones)
Tiny stones made of calcium are prone to form inside the gland which can block the gland’s duct. While the specific cause of these stones is unknown, they can create oral pain, swelling, and a reduction of saliva. Sometimes these stones can sit in the gland undetected; however, duct blockage may be followed by infection called sialadenitis.
Sialadenitis (bacterial infection)
Whether caused by a salivary-gland stone or bacteria, sialadenitis is a painful infection that can occur in the salivary glands. It is most common among elderly patients who also have salivary-gland stones, however it can also be seen in infants. If not treated immediately, a severe infection may develop in the mouth which requires aggressive treatment.
Viral infections which affect the entire body often settle in the salivary glands. Symptoms of this kind of infection may include facial swelling, pain, and difficulty eating. The most common example of a viral infection of the salivary glands is mumps. Similar symptoms can be caused by other viral illnesses, including flu, parainfluenza, Coxsackie viruses, echovirus, and cytomegalovirus.
Other salivary gland disorders include benign tumors, malignant tumors, and Sjögren’s syndrome. While the symptoms of each kind of disorder vary, oral surgeons agree that if you experience any discomfort, swelling, or excessive dryness in the mouth, you should contact a medical professional immediately for a consultation.
As board-certified oral and maxillofacial surgeons with both a medical degree and a dental degree, Dr. Amir Marashi is highly qualified to diagnose and treat salivary gland disorders. During your initial consultation, you will receive an oral examination and a review of your medical history. Additional testing, such as blood tests and/or X-rays, may be necessary to diagnose the source of the problem and develop an individualized treatment plan to correct the condition.