Salivary glands are specialized exocrine glands, which produce and generate saliva, and release it into the oral cavity via their ducts. These glands are called exocrine because they transport their secretion via their ducts, in contrast to the endocrine glands (e.g., the pituitary and thyroid glands), which do not have their own ducts, and rather pour their secretions directly into the blood.
The main function of saliva is to provide lubrication to the oral structures during mastication and speech, besides playing a cleansing, antibacterial, and digestive role. The oral cavity contains three pairs of major salivary glands, the parotid, submandibular, and the sublingual glands, in addition to numerous minor salivary glands distributed throughout the mouth.
Causes of Salivary Gland Problems
Sometimes, the normal functioning of your salivary glands is altered as a result of infection, trauma, obstruction of the salivary ducts, or even tumors. The management of each salivary gland condition is dependent upon the symptoms and the underlying cause.
- Salivary Gland Stones – sometimes, crystalline salivary deposits may form within the salivary ducts, limiting, or even completely obstructing, salivary flow through the effected glands. This condition is medically referred to as sialolithiasis, and the salivary deposits are known as salivary stones or calculi. The most common symptoms of salivary obstruction are severe pain, which increases in severity during mastication, and swelling in the effected region.
- Sialadenitis – this condition refers to infection of the salivary glands, which can be bacterial or viral in nature. Bacterial infections are usually caused by long standing salivary calculi, which can cause physical injury to the salivary duct. Symptoms include continuous pain, swelling, high grade fever, and exudation of a foul smelling pus from the gland. Viral infections of the salivary glands are also not rare. The most commonly occurring viral infection is the mumps parotitis, which causes bilateral swelling of the parotid glands, in addition to severe pain and fever.
- Cysts – cysts can also form within the salivary glands as a result of trauma, chronic infections, or even salivary calculi. These cysts can obstruct the normal functioning of the gland, as well create difficulties while eating and speech.
- Tumors – various tumors, both benign and malignant, can affect the salivary glands. While most types of tumors are benign, a few of them can be malignant too.
- Sjogrens’s Syndrome – this is an auto-immune condition that mainly attacks the salivary and ocular glands, leading to a dry mouth and eyes. Although it can develop at any age, people over 40 years are more often affected.
Diagnosis of Salivary Gland Problems
Most salivary gland problems are easily identifiable because of pain and swelling, other conspicuous salivary pathologies may require advanced diagnostic methodologies, such as:
- X-ray radiography
- CT scan
Treatment of Salivary Glands
Treatment of salivary glands is mostly symptomatic. However, in some cases, surgical intervention may also be required.
- Treatment of Salivary Calculi – initially, the dentist attempts to manually “guide” the stone out of the duct. In case it is not successful, the stone may have to be surgically removed.
- Treatment of Salivary Infections – in case of infection, the patients are prescribed with antibiotics, additionally instructing them to keep the oral cavity clean and hydrated, to prevent other infections occurring as a result of reduced salivary flow. In case of viral infections, such as mumps, treatment is usually symptomatic.
- Treatment of Cysts – cysts of the salivary glands require surgical excision or marsupialization.
- Treatment of Salivary Tumors – depending upon the type and severity of the tumor, treatment may involve surgical removal, radiation, or a combination of both.
If you have concerns about your salivary glands or thing you’ve experienced any of these symptoms, please don’t hesitate to contact our Fort Worth office and schedule an exam. We’d rather you let us have a look than let any of these progress beyond help.