Salivary glands produce saliva, which is not only responsible for moistening the food we eat and allowing us to swallow it, but also aids in the digestion process. Saliva contains enzymes that begin to break down food before it reaches the stomach. Furthermore, saliva helps to keep the mouth clean, and the antibodies contained in saliva help to defend the body from germs. Unfortunately, there are several salivary gland disorders that may impede the salivary glands from functioning properly and some that may even affect one’s overall health.

The Salivary Glands

The major salivary glands include three pairs of salivary glands, two parotid glands, two submandibular, and two sublingual:

  • dr. larian salivary glandsParotid glands are located near the ear, in the upper portion of each cheek.
  • Submandibular glands are found on both sides, just under the jaw, towards the back of the mouth.
  • Sublingual glands reside beneath the tongue and supply saliva to the floor of the mouth.
  • Minor salivary glands are smaller glands that are found throughout the mouth, nose and throat.

The parotid glands produce a type of saliva that is “serous” which means it’s more watery and thin. It has the protein Amylase that helps begin the process of starch digestion. While we are not eating the parotid glands each contribute to 10% of saliva in the mouth, but when stimulated by eating the saliva each gland produces accounts for 25% of the saliva in the mouth.

There are many different types of cells that make up the small little parts of the gland that produce saliva and secrete it (you can see these different cell types on the diagram). Because of the variety of cell types, there are many different types of tumors and cancers that can develop in the parotid gland. In addition to the possibility of developing a parotid tumor, there are several lymph nodes inside the parotid gland. At times, skin cancers over the temple, scalp, and cheek areas can spread to this area; lymphomas can also occur in these lymph nodes.

The salivary glands are constantly working, and can be affected by many medical conditions, medications, and even not drinking enough water. Infections and inflammation of the gland can cause it to swell up and become painful. Obstruction of the ducts, which can happen because of salivary stones or narrowing of the duct from infection, can cause the saliva to back up into the gland and lead to it to swelling up as well.

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