Salivary Gland Disorders

Illustration showing esophagus, tongue, soft palate, hard palate, and Salivary Glands

The salivary glands are found in and near your mouth, face, and neck. Dehydration is a risk factor for certain salivary gland disorders. To help maintain good oral health, it’s important to drink lots of liquid every day to promote good saliva production.

The major salivary glands include the parotid (on the cheek and under the ear), submandibular (under the jaw), and sublingual (under the tongue) glands. These glands produce saliva, which helps moisten the mouth, initiates food digestion, and helps protect teeth from decay. There are also many tiny, minor salivary glands located along the lips, inside the cheek, mouth, and throat.

What Are the Symptoms of Salivary Gland Disorders?

Problems with the salivary glands may produce symptoms such as:

  • Blocked saliva flow
  • Difficulty eating
  • Swelling in the gland(s) of the cheek and neck
  • Pain in the gland(s)
  • Repeated infections
  • Growths or lumps inside the glands or neck

What Are the Treatment Options?

If your doctor or ENT specialist suspects a salivary gland obstruction, they may numb the opening of the salivary ducts in your mouth and dilate the duct to help an obstructive stone pass. Imaging with a CT scan or ultrasound may also reveal where the calcified stones are located.

If a mass is found in the salivary gland, it’s helpful to obtain a CT or MRI scan. Sometimes, a fine needle aspiration biopsy in the doctor’s office helps determine what’s going on. Rarely, dye will be injected through the parotid duct and an X-ray, called a sialogram, of the gland is taken. Alternatively, small endoscopes, called sialendoscopes, can be used to examine the salivary ducts and diagnose and treat an obstruction from stones or stenosis.

A lip biopsy of minor salivary glands may be needed to identify certain autoimmune diseases, such as Sjögren’s syndrome.

Treatment of salivary diseases falls into two categories—medical and surgical—and depends on the nature of the problem. If it is due to diseases or disorders that involve the whole body, not one isolated area, then the underlying problem must be treated. This may require consulting with other specialists. If the disorder relates to salivary gland obstruction and infection, your doctor or ENT specialist may prescribe antibiotics and recommend increasing your fluids.

If a mass has developed within the salivary gland, removal of the mass may be recommended. Most masses in the parotid gland area are noncancerous. When malignant masses are located within the parotid gland, it may be possible to surgically remove them while preserving most of the facial nerve within the gland that moves the face muscles, including those for the mouth and eyes. Radiation treatment is sometimes recommended after surgery. This is typically administered four to six weeks after the surgical procedure to allow adequate healing before irradiation.

The same general principles apply to masses in the submandibular area or in the minor salivary glands within the mouth and upper throat. Noncancerous masses are best treated by conservative measures or surgery. If the lump in the vicinity of a salivary gland is a lymph node that has become enlarged due to cancer from another site, your ENT specialist will recommend a different treatment plan.

Call Rocky Top ENT & Allergy at 931-219-9990 or 865-383-0737 for more information and to schedule an appointment.