Salivary Gland Disease

Saliva is produced by 3 main pairs of salivary glands – parotid (in front of the ear, submandibular, below the jaw line, and sublingual, below the tongue) and also by numerous minor salivary glands in the lips and roof of the mouth. It is important for moistening and digesting food, and has a significant protective function for oral tissues and teeth.

The most common disorders of salivary glands involve mucous cysts, blockage by calcified stones, infection and abnormal growths.

Infection in the salivary glands often relates to poor salivary flow, as seen in patients who are dehydrated, taking medication or have stones lodged in the salivary ducts. Patients who have had radiotherapy are also at risk. These infections usually require antibiotics or sometimes surgery to remove a calculus (stone). Minimally invasive techniques such as endoscopy have significantly increased treatment options over recent years.

Salivary gland tumours usually present as a lump or swelling, but can also present as an ulcerated lesion in the oral cavity (e.g. minor salivary gland malignancy) or with facial nerve impairment (parotid malignancy). Investigation is performed by imaging and needle biopsies to establish a diagnosis. Surgery is highly specialised as utmost care is taken to protect critical nerves that move and give feeling to the face and tongue.

The most common disorders of salivary glands involve mucous cysts, blockage by calcified stones, infection and abnormal growths.

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