What is the Salivary Gland?
Salivary gland problems may vary from dry mouth to a lump in the salivary gland. Every person has 4 main salivary glands–two in our cheeks (the parotids) and two under our chins (the submandibular glands). These glands are important for much of the saliva in the mouth. Saliva is important because it protects our teeth and is the first step in digestion of food.
Dry mouth is most commonly a side effect of medication or of a prior medical procedure (like radioactive iodine ablation for thyroid cancer or radiation to the head and neck for cancer). There is no wonder drug to help with dry mouth. Good hydration, Biotene products, and consistent dental care are mainly what we recommend. Sometimes, doing a procedure where we dilate the salivary ducts can help, but this will not increase saliva production and will only help if there is something stuck in one of your salivary ducts.
What can be stuck in a salivary duct? Stones. One component of saliva is calcium and, if enough of the calcium gets close enough together, it can form a stone. If you have had salivary stones, you may have felt a gritty sensation, like sand, in your mouth. Stones can sometimes be removed from inside the mouth, but sometimes they get so big that the entire gland has to be removed. Removing one salivary gland will not affect your overall saliva production.
Lumps can also be present in salivary glands. These are normally benign masses that cannot go anywhere else, but they do grow with time. Most of the time, we recommend either an ultrasound or CT scan to look at it better as well as a small biopsy of the mass. It is very important to see one of us, or another ENT, as soon as you can if you notice a lump in one of your salivary glands.
Some people have problems with infections in their salivary glands. This is very painful and gets worse with eating. Taking antibiotics after antibiotics is not good, as this is how antibiotic resistance develops. I frequently recommend removal of the constantly infected gland to prevent future problems (like the development of an abscess) and frequent antibiotic use.
For little glands that we normally do not even think about, it is incredible what a big difference they can make on our lives if they are not functioning properly. If you have any concerns about a problem with your salivary glands, we would love to see if we could help you out.