Salivary Glands - Onset of Digestion, Function, Conditions and Treatment
Know your Body

Salivary Glands: The Onset of Digestion

Dr.Surya Rao Poodipeddi profile Authored by Dr.Surya Rao Poodipeddi on 5 Mar 2014 - 14:46.

"Mouth-watering" is a common term used, when you see delectable, appealing food. The water here is referred to the secretion of saliva from the salivary glands. The glands salivate, when a person craves to eat a particular food item.

The Salivary glands are responsible to constantly secrete saliva not only to keep the mouth moist, but also to mix the chewed food into a bolus, easy enough to swallow.

There are a number of salivary glands in and around the mouth. Of these, three glands are considered important, namely: the parotid, submandibular and sublingual salivary glands. Other minor salivary glands which also secret saliva are, the tiny glands located in the lips, inner cheeks and the lining of the mouth and throat.

All these glands, big or small secrete saliva in the mouth. The parotid secretes through tubes that drain saliva called the salivary ducts near the upper teeth, the submandibular under the tongue and the sublingual through ducts in the floor of the mouth. The secreted saliva helps in keeping the mouth moist, initiate digestion and protects our teeth from decay.

The basic secretary units of the salivary glands are known as acini. These cells secrete a fluid that contains water, electrolytes, mucus and enzymes, all of which flow out of the acinus into collecting ducts.

It is highly important to remember that we should drink lots of liquids daily to avert the possibility of dehydration which is always a risk factor for a salivary gland disease. It is equally important to get the salivary glands checked by doctors and dentists during every routine check up, in order to detect a lump that could mean cancer of the salivary glands. Early detection of a lump and quick diagnosis through a biopsy gives better chances of a cure.

If you have any of the following problems rush to the doctor immediately for thorough evaluation:

  • A mass or a lump in the face, neck or mouth.
  • Any presence of pain in the face, neck or mouth that lasts for more than few days.
  • A difference in the size or shape of your face between the left and right sides which was not there earlier.
  • Numbness in a part of the face.
  • Sudden presence of weakness in the muscles of the face, on one side.

The moment the doctor has a suspicion about cancer he will order a series of tests like X-ray, CT scan, MRI and blood tests and also a biopsy to confirm or exclude its possibility.

Besides the possibility of cancer, several other conditions affect the glands. The main problems include, obstruction of the saliva flow from the salivary ducts and infection of salivary glands.

  • Obstruction to the flow of saliva commonly occurs in the parotid and submandibular glands mainly due to formation of stones/The symptoms typically occur while eating food giving intense pain in chewing and swallowing. Unless the stones have caused total obstruction, the pain occurs during eating and stops afterwards, only to swell during the next meal.
  • Infection makes its presence felt when once the pool of saliva so collected gets invaded by bacteria. If not treated promptly and adequately abscess formation in the glands is a distinct possibility. The most common infection noticed mostly in children is mumps which involves the parotid glands. Children who have not been immunized against mumps are the usual victims. Adults are not immune to mumps. Secondary infections of the salivary glands from the nearby lymph nodes may also occur.

Conditions affecting the Salivary Glands:

There is one rare condition that can affect the salivary glands called SJorgen’s Syndrome which is an autoimmune disease where the body’s immune system attacks the salivary glands leading to significant inflammation characterized by dry mouth and dry eyes.

Diabetes is another condition which can lead to problems in the salivary glands. Alcoholics may have swollen salivary glands on both sides.

Xerostomia is a condition where there is dryness of mouth which may not be due to removal of the affected gland. Use of certain medicinal agents to keep the mouth moist might help in such cases.

Treatment of problems in the salivary glands depends on the type and extent of involvement and falls into two distinct categories namely, medical and surgical. If the problem is due to a general systemic disease affecting the whole body, the underlying cause must be found and treated accordingly. If the problem is due to obstruction by a stone(s) surgery is the answer to remove the block and restore drainage of saliva. A mass in the salivary gland is usually benign and can be removed through surgery.

Great care is necessary whenever surgery is performed in avoiding injury to the facial nerve that supplies muscles to the face.


*Disclaimer: This is not medical advice. The content is for educational purposes only. Please contact your doctor for any health care issues.