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Salivary Gland Problems

Your salivary glands make as much as a quart of saliva each day. Saliva is important to lubricate your mouth, help with swallowing, protect your teeth against bacteria, and aid in the digestion of food. The three major pairs of salivary glands are:

  • parotid glands on the insides of the cheeks
  • submandibular glands at the floor of the mouth
  • sublingual glands under the tongue

There are also several hundred minor salivary glands throughout the mouth and throat. Saliva drains into the mouth through small tubes called ducts.

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When there is a problem with the salivary glands or ducts, you may have symptoms such as salivary gland swelling, dry mouth, pain, fever, and foul-tasting drainage into the mouth.

Causes of Salivary Gland Problems

Many different problems can interfere with the function of the salivary glands or block the ducts so they can't drain saliva. The following are some of the more common salivary gland problems:

Salivary stones, or sialoliths. The most common cause of swollen salivary glands, salivary stones are buildups of crystallized saliva deposits. Sometimes salivary stones can block the flow of saliva. When saliva can't exit through the ducts, it backs up into the gland, causing pain and swelling. Pain is usually off and on, is felt in one gland, and gets progressively worse. Unless the blockage is cleared, the gland is likely to become infected.

Salivary gland infection, or sialadenitis. Bacterial infection of the salivary gland, most commonly the parotid gland, may result when the duct into the mouth is blocked. Sialadenitis creates a painful lump in the gland, and foul-tasting pus drains into the mouth.

Sialadenitis is more common in older adults with salivary stones, but it can also happen in babies during the first few weeks after birth. If not treated, salivary gland infections can cause severe pain, high fevers, and abscess (pus collection).

Infections. Viral infections such as mumps, flu, and others can cause swelling of the salivary glands. Swelling happens in parotid glands on both sides of the face, giving the appearance of "chipmunk cheeks."

Salivary gland swelling is commonly associated with mumps, happening in about 30% to 40% of mumps infections. It usually begins approximately 48 hours after the start of other symptoms such as fever and headache.

Other viral illnesses that cause salivary gland swelling include the Epstein-Barr virus (EBV), cytomegalovirus (CMV), Coxsackievirus, and the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV).

Bacterial infections generally cause one-sided salivary gland swelling. Other symptoms such as fever and pain will accompany the swelling. The bacteria are typically those found normally in the mouth, as well as staph bacteria. These infections most often affect the parotid gland. Dehydration and malnutrition raise the risk of getting a bacterial infection.

Cysts. Cysts can develop in the salivary glands if injuries, infections, tumors, or salivary stones block the flow of saliva.Some babies are born with cysts in the parotid gland due to a problem with the development of the ears. It can appear as a blister or soft, raised area. Cysts may interfere with eating and speaking.

WebMD Medical Reference

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Only 18.5% of Americans never floss. You are missing out on a simple way to make a big difference in the health of your mouth. Regardless of how well you brush, plaque still forms between your teeth and along your gums. Floss removes food trapped between the teeth and removes the film of bacteria that forms there before it turns to plaque, which can cause inflamed gums (gingivitis), cavities, and tooth loss. Try flossing just one tooth to get started.

You are one of 31% of Americans who don't floss daily. You are missing out on a simple way to make a big difference in the health of your mouth. Regardless of how well you brush, plaque still forms between your teeth and along your gums. Toothbrush bristles alone cannot clean effectively between these tight spaces. Flossing removes up to 80% of the film that hardens to plaque, which can cause inflamed gums (gingivitis), cavities, and tooth loss. Aim for 3 more days!

You are one of 31% of Americans who don't floss daily, but you're well on your way to making a positive impact on your teeth and gums. Regardless of how well you brush, plaque still forms between your teeth and along your gums. Toothbrush bristles alone cannot clean effectively between these tight spaces. Flossing removes up to 80% of the film that hardens to plaque, which can cause inflamed gums (gingivitis), cavities, and tooth loss. Aim for all 7 days!

Only 50.5% of Americans floss daily, and good for you that you are one of them! Regardless of how well you brush, plaque still forms between your teeth and along your gums. Toothbrush bristles alone cannot clean effectively between these tight spaces. Flossing removes up to 80% of the film that hardens to plaque, which can cause inflamed gums (gingivitis), cavities, and tooth loss. Congratulations on your good oral health habit!

SOURCES:

American Dental Association, Healthy People 2010

This tool is intended only for adults 18 and older.

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