Salivary glands are glands found in and around the mouth and throat. They secrete saliva into the mouth through tubes called salivary ducts. There are 3 major salivary glands- the parotid, submandibular and sublingual glands.
Besides these, there are 600-1000 tiny glands called minor salivary glands located in the lips, inner cheek area (buccal mucosa), and linings of the mouth and throat. Salivary glands produce saliva that moistens the mouth, acts as a lubricant for speech, helps in swallowing, initiates digestion, has antibacterial properties and protects teeth from decay.
Diagrammatic representation of the location of the major salivary glands
Disorders of the salivary glands include
1. Hyperplasia or swelling of the salivary glands:
Rarely, the minor salivary glands may be swollen. They are seen as mild, painless masses usually on the roof of the mouth and soft palate. A biopsy is needed to be done to rule out other diseases. Once diagnosed, these swellings may subside on their own.
2. Salivary stones or calculi in the gland causing obstruction to the saliva flow
Sialoliths or salivary gland stones may be formed in the salivary glands or ducts. These cause obstruction to the flow of saliva. Patients complain of periodic painful swelling, typically when eating. The salivary glands swell then gradually subside after eating. If not treated early, infections or abscesses may occur.
Sometimes the salivary ducts may have small constrictions, which decrease salivary flow, leading to infection (sialadenitis) and obstructive symptoms.