Your salivary glands make saliva and empty it into your mouth through openings called ducts. Your salivary glands make as much as a quart of saliva each day. The salivary glands are relatively small. There are three major pairs but also several hundred minor glands around the inner linings of your mouth, lips, and cheeks. Saliva makes your food moist, which helps you chew and swallow. It contains enzymes that start the digestive process of your food. It also cleans your mouth and contains antibodies that can kill germs.
Problems with salivary glands can cause the glands to become irritated and swollen. This causes symptoms such as: bad taste in the mouth, dry mouth, pain in the face or mouth, swelling of the face or neck,
A common cause of swollen salivary glands is salivary stones (or sialoliths) which are buildups of crystallized saliva deposits. If salivary stones block the flow through of salivary ducts saliva backs up into the gland, causing pain and swelling. Unless the blockage is cleared, the gland is likely to become infected. Salivary gland infection (Sialadenitis) is more common in older adults with salivary stones, but it can also happen in newborn babies. Sialadenitis creates a painful lump in the gland, and foul-tasting pus drains into the mouth. If not treated, salivary gland infections can cause severe pain, high fevers, and abscess (pus collection). Viral infections such as mumps or flu can cause swelling of the salivary glands on both sides of the face, giving the appearance of "chipmunk cheeks."
Several different types of tumors can affect the salivary glands. They can be cancerous (malignant) or noncancerous (benign). The two most common tumors are pleomorphic adenomas and Warthin's tumor. Pleomorphic adenomas are noncancerous and are more common in women than men. Warthin's tumors are also benign. They are found more often in men than women, especially in men who smoke tobacco.
Sjogren's (SHOW-grins) syndrome is a chronic autoimmune disease in which cells of a person's immune system attack the salivary and other moisture-producing glands, leading to dry mouth and eyes.
Tests will vary depending on the underlying condition thought to be causing the problem. Images of the glands can be seen using ultrasound, MRI scan, and CT scans of the glands. Rarely, the ducts of the mouth can be investigated using an x-ray called a sialogram. This test is not commonly perfomed any longer, as injection of contrast into the salivary ducts can lead to painful inflammation of the salivary glands. A salivary gland biopsy can be used to diagnose problems with the salivary glands, particularly if your doctor suspects you may have an autoimmune disorder that affects your salivary glands.
For stones and other blockages of the ducts, treatment often begins with simple measures such as manual removal of stones, warm compresses, or sour candies to increase the flow of saliva. If these do measures don't relieve the problem, surgery may be required to remove the blockage and/or the affected gland.
Other problems may be treated with medications. For example, bacterial infections are treated with antibiotics. Your surgeon may recommend treatments for dry mouth.
Surgery is usually required to remove benign and malignant tumors. Some benign tumors are treated with radiation to keep them from coming back. Some cancerous tumors require radiation and chemotherapy. Surgery may also be needed to treat large cysts.
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