Saliva, produced by the salivary glands inside the cheeks, under the tongue and at the floor of the mouth, protects your teeth against bacteria, assists in the digestion of food, helps with swallowing and lubricates your mouth. There are a number of issues that can interfere with the production or drainage process, leading to a variety of unpleasant symptoms.
Common Salivary Gland Issues
Problems with your salivary glands can be caused by a number of issues.
Also known as sialoliths, salivary stones are formed from a buildup of crystallized saliva deposits. These stones can block the flow of saliva, causing pain and swelling. If they are not cleared, the gland can become infected.
When the ducts that drain saliva into the mouth are blocked, a bacterial infection can form. This leads to a painful lump in the gland and a foul-taste as pun drains into the mouth. When not treated, a bacterial infection can cause severe pain and a high fever.
A viral infection elsewhere in the body such as the flu or mumps can cause swelling in the salivary glands, specially the parotid glands on the side of the face.
Viral infections including Epstein-Barr virus, cytomegalovirus, Coxsackievirus and HIV can also cause salivary glands to swell.
These pockets of fluids form when the flow of saliva is blocked, usually because of an injury, infection, tumor or stones. Cysts can interfere with your ability to eat or speak.
There are many types of tumors that can affect the salivary glands. The most common are pleomorphic adenomas and Warthin’s tumor. Both are benign (noncancerous) and form in the parotid glands.
Cancerous salivary gland tumors include:
- Mucoepidermoid carcinoma
- Adenocystic carcinoma
- Low-grade polymorphous adenocarcinoma
- Malignant mixed tumor
The immune systems of those with this chronic autoimmune disease attack their moisture producing glands. This leads to dry eyes and mouth. As many as half of people with this condition experience enlarged salivary glands on both sides of their mouth.
How Salivary Gland Problems Are Treated
The treatment of salivary gland issues depends on the cause.
Conditions that block the ducts can be treated with a warm compress or sucking on sour candies to help increase the flow of saliva. If this does not work, the stones may require manual removal or the surgical removal of the affected gland.
Tumors, both benign and malignant may be removed through surgery. Radiation and chemotherapy may be required to treat some cancerous tumors.
Medications will be prescribed to treat a bacterial infection.
To learn more about diagnosing a salivary gland condition or to schedule an appointment with a throat expert, contact San Diego ENT today.