SALIVARY GLAND ANATOMY AND PHYSIOLOGY

The salivary glands produce saliva to help with chewing and swallowing food. There are three sets of salivary glands.

The first is the parotid gland, which is located just behind and just over the side of the jaw.  Its duct empties into the mouth just to the side of the upper molars.

The submandibular gland is located underneath the jaw and its duct runs along the floor of the mouth and empties just under the tongue behind the lower front teeth, almost in the middle of the floor of the mouth.

There is a much smaller sublingual gland which sits in the floor of the mouth under the tongue, and drains by multiple tiny openings into the floor of the mouth. 

There are multiple other much tinier minor salivary glands scattered just under the surface of the lips and cheeks that cannot be identified without a microscope. 

There is one of each kind of salivary gland on each side of the face and mouth (2 of each kind in all).  The salivary glands secrete water, salts and mucous to help moisturize and lubricate the food so that it can be swallowed more easily.

DISEASES OF THE SALIVARY GLAND

The main disease of the salivary gland this pamphlet will discuss, are limited to the two largest glands:  the parotid gland and the submandibular gland. 

These are the only two glands which have long ducts and are the only glands which usually become blocked or infected.  The treatment of these problems are the same for either gland. 

There are basically two ways in which salivary glands can become blocked.

Firstly, occasionally a stone can form in the salivary gland duct as a result of natural body salts crystallizing and forming solid masses within the ducts.  These stones gradually become larger with time, as more and more salts crystallize around a smaller stone. 

The other way that the salivary glands can become blocked is if mucous becomes dried out and thickened in the gland or the duct and blocks the flow of saliva. 

This thickening of the mucous is more likely to occur if a person fails to take adequate liquids and becomes dehydrated. In addition, taking diuretic, antihistamines, anti-dizziness medicines, or a variety of other medications that have anticholinergic effects, can contribute to thickening the secretions.


Obstruction of the salivary flow can cause infection of the gland because germs (bacteria) that get into the saliva gland are not flushed out normally and consequently can grow and create an infection. Thus obstruction and infection of the gland tend to go hand in hand, although it is possible to have obstruction with no infection.

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