Disorders of the Salivary Glands

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The major salivary glands are a set of 3 paired glands located in the head and neck region and are responsible for saliva production. The Parotid glands are the largest and are located on each side of the face, under the skin and in front of the ear. The sub-mandibular glands are on each side as well, and are located under the jaw. The sub-lingual glands are the smallest of the three and are located under the tongue on either side.

The disease processes that can occur in these glands can be sub-divided into two main categories: 1) infection/inflammation 2) tumor or cyst.

Viral infections can involve the parotid glands, such as mumps; but is quite rare today due to vaccinations. Bacterial infections are more common and can be seen in any of these glands.

The most common cause of an infection is the production of a stone in the gland that obstructs the flow of saliva, resulting in swelling, pain and possibly fever. The stones usually pass on their own with conservative measures, such as consumption of plenty of fluids, gland massage and analgesics. Sometimes antibiotics will be prescribed in this setting. In certain situations the stone itself can be removed, but if not, and it remains a regular or constant source of infection, the gland itself may need to be surgically removed to resolve the situation.

Tumors may develop in any of the saliva glands. Benign (non-cancerous) tumors are more commonly seen in this location compared to malignant (cancerous) ones. If your surgeon diagnoses a tumor, you will likely undergo a diagnostic needle biopsy and possibly a CT or MRI scan prior to receiving treatment recommendations.

Cysts can develop in any saliva gland, usually due to an obstruction. They may or may not cause symptoms. Treatment will be recommended based on the extent and degree of symptoms.