What Are Salivary Gland Disorders?

The three sets of salivary glands, located at the sides of the mouth below the ears (parotid glands), below the jaw (submandibular glands) and in the floor of the mouth (sublingual glands), secrete saliva into the mouth through tiny ducts. Saliva aids in swallowing, prevents infection, and helps keep the mouth and teeth clean.

The salivary glands can malfunction in a number of ways: too much or too little saliva may be produced; the glands may become infected; the ducts may be blocked by a plug, known as a stone; rarely, tumors (either cancerous or benign) may develop within the glands. Treatment depends upon the underlying problem. If one salivary gland needs to be removed (say, in the case of a malignant tumor), the remaining glands compensate and produce adequate amounts of saliva.

What Causes Salivary Gland Disorders?

  • Bacteria and viruses may cause infections of the salivary gland.
  • Chemicals in the saliva may solidify into a salivary duct stone.
  • The cause of salivary gland tumors is unknown.
  • Swelling of the salivary glands or a decrease in salivation may be caused by a number of factors, including: other disorders, such as diabetes mellitus, cirrhosis, Sjögren’s syndrome, depression and dehydration; treatments such as radiation therapy to the head and neck; and medications including antihistamines, antidepressants and some combinations of antihypertensive drugs.
  • Excessive salivation may be caused by certain salivary gland infections.

Symptoms of Salivary Gland Disorders

  • Swelling under the chin or in front of the ears. Painful swelling is associated with salivary gland infections and salivary duct stones; painless swelling that develops gradually may be due to salivary gland tumors or the conditions described above in “What Causes Salivary Gland Disorders?”
  • Mouth pain, especially at mealtimes
  • Bad taste in the mouth (in salivary gland infection)
  • Fever (in salivary gland infection)
  • Dry mouth, difficulty swallowing owing to decreased salivation and an increase in dental cavities
  • Swollen ears face and neck
  • Face pain
  • Difficulty opening the mouth

Prevention of Salivary Gland Disorders

There is no known way to prevent salivary gland disorders.

Diagnosis of Salivary Gland Disorders

  • Patient history and physical examination, either by a physician or dentist
  • Dental x-rays
  • CT (computed tomography) scans
  • Biopsy of affected salivary glands

How to Treat Salivary Gland Disorders

  • Antibiotics are prescribed to treat bacterial infections of the salivary glands.
  • Antifungal agents may be needed to treat yeast infections of the mouth occurring in those with decreased saliva.
  • Over-the-counter analgesics can be taken for pain relief. Aspirin should never be given to children under the age of 16.
  • Sugarless gum or sour candies can help stimulate salivation. Increased fluid intake is also recommended for dry mouth.
  • Saliva substitutes (solutions containing 2 percent methylcellulose) may be prescribed, especially to be used at night. In severe cases the drug pilocarpine may be prescribed to increase saliva production.
  • Rinsing the mouth several times daily with a solution of salt or baking soda in warm water is advised to wash away pus from an infected salivary duct.
  • Surgery may be performed to remove a stone blocking the salivary duct, to remove a tumor or to widen the opening of the duct.
  • Surgical removal of the entire salivary gland may be required for malignant tumors and may be advised in cases of recurrent infection.
  • Radiation therapy may be needed to destroy cancerous cells. Prognosis for salivary tumors is quite favorable if they are detected early.

When to Call a Doctor

See your doctor if you develop pain or swelling in or around the mouth or cheek, or if you experience an increase or decrease in saliva production.


Johns Hopkins Symptoms and Remedies: The Complete Home Medical Reference

Simeon Margolis, M.D., Ph.D., Medical Editor

Prepared by the Editors of The Johns Hopkins Medical Letter: Health After 50

Updated by Remedy Health Media

Publication Review By: the Editorial Staff at Healthcommunities.com

Published: 26 Oct 2011

Last Modified: 04 Dec 2014