The hard-to-swallow facts about your salivary glands!

The Salivary Gland System

A person’s health can be thoroughly evaluated just in their saliva alone! Though saliva is mostly comprised of water, it also contains hormones, minerals, enzymes and proteins, plus antibacterial and other substances that are prime indicators of whether or not we’re in optimal condition. Things like our dental health and our body’s pH balance are directly connected to our salivary glands.

There are three types of glands located in the head and neck area which enable one’s ability to chew, swallow and perform other essential oral functions such as destroying bacteria, preventing tooth decay, and producing saliva. One wouldn’t have the ability to taste food were it not for these glands creating saliva that help keep the mouth lubricated, dissolve the chemicals inside food, and activate your taste bud’s receptors.

The salivary system’s major components include a triple pair of parotid, sublingual and submandibular glands, as well as hundreds of minor glands throughout the cheeks, mouth and nasal cavity. The parotid glands are the largest within the salivary system. They interconnect with the facial nerves and can be found beneath the skin, overlying the jaw bone in the frontal ear region. Sublingual glands are located under the tongue and the submandibular glands are beneath the jaw.

Without these crucial salivary glands, the mouth would not be able to maintain tooth health nor moisture of any kind. In fact, did you know that our salivary glands produce about one quart of saliva per day? (That’s enough liquid to fill approximately two bathtubs per year!)

Symptoms of Salivary Gland Disorders

Depending on the specific salivary gland disorder, symptoms may vary. It is important to consult your otolaryngologist if you experience abscessed glands, dry mouth or dry eyes, facial pain or loss of facial movement, and red, painful swelling around the parotid or submandibular glands.

In the case of enlarged salivary stones that block the duct, symptoms can include pain & swelling, drainage, and a foul taste in your mouth. Early detection and treatment are key, as untreated symptoms can lead to cancer or a loss of essential oral functions.

Causes of Abnormal Salivary Glandular Conditions

There are various causes that generate clinical symptoms alluding to a salivary gland abnormality. Among these causes are inflammation, obstructions & growths, and infections.

Infection can occur in the salivary glands due to the adjacent lymph nodes which become enlarged and tender during a common sore throat. Salivary gland enlargement can also be caused by diabetes, autoimmune diseases, and alcoholism.

Mumps can spur infection of the parotid glands. Mumps are prominent in children and tend to be the most common cause of glandular infections. Furthermore, infections can be caused by a slow saliva flow or ductal blockage.

Stone formation occurs in the parotid and submandibular glands, and cause obstruction to the flow of saliva. Obstructions and swelling lead to chronic inflammation, and can be intensely felt when one is eating. This is because saliva cannot exit the ductal system, which then stimulates significant pain and infection.

Tumors and tissue swelling of the lymph nodes can contribute to infection as well. Growths which development in one of the primary salivary glands can be a potential danger to your health. Tumor-like growths must be checked by an otolaryngologist to determine whether they are benign or malignant.

Diagnosing Salivary Gland Disorders

When diagnosing diseases related to the salivary glands, your ENT physician will assess your medical history and perform a physical examination. Additional diagnostic methods include laboratory tests and computerized tomography (CT) x-ray scans for detecting stone obstructions and other masses.

It may be necessary to anesthetize, probe and dilate the opening of the salivary ducts in the mouth, in order to help facilitate the passing of any suspected obstructive stone. Your doctor might also conduct a fine needle aspiration biopsy. This open, incisional form of testing can help accurately determine the condition of the affected area, but may need to be conducted in an operating room due to possible injury of the underlying nerves within the parotid gland.


Depending on the specific causes of the problem, treatment for salivary gland diseases are either medical or surgical in nature. Antibiotics and increased fluid intake are

prescribed as treatment for salivary gland problems caused by obstructions and infection. In cases where systemic diseases are the cause, the root problem must be addressed and treated by consulting with other specialists.

Surgery is a recommended action in cases when a mass has developed within the salivary gland, though most masses in the parotid gland (approximately 80%) are noncancerous. If, however, parotid gland cancer is present, it may be necessary to remove the entire gland – via a parotidectomy – in an effort to preserve the corresponding facial nerves. Four to six weeks later, radiation treatment tends to follow surgery pertaining to lumps in the parotid gland.

Similar principles apply to masses existing in the submandibular and other minor salivary glands. Conservative measures of medicine and surgery are best for benign diseases, whereas surgery followed by postoperative radiation is typically advised for malignant tumors. Your otolaryngologist will direct you to the best treatment approach based on the specific cause of your salivary gland problem.

In general, it is important to stay well-hydrated in order to maintain good salivary gland health. Also, be sure to consume a balanced intake of alkaline and acidic foods, as well as brush & floss your teeth daily.

Salivary Gland Disorders in Buffalo, New York

Dr. Paul Young is a leading otolaryngologist treating patients in the Buffalo, New York area who suffer with various salivary gland conditions such as:

-Salivary Gland Tumors

development of abnormal cells in the salivary glands that divide & grow -Salivary Duct Stones

calcification or crystallization of saliva -Sialadenitis

acute, chronic or recurrent inflammation of the salivary glands -Sjogren’s Syndrome

autoimmune condition of insufficient saliva production

Dr. Young and his team of experts provide comprehensive care for salivary gland disorders and other conditions of the ear, nose and throat. Contact us today to book an appointment and discuss your options for treatment!