Salivary Gland Infections

Definition :

This is a disorder caused by viral or bacterial infection of the salivary glands.

Alternative Names :

Parotitis; Saladenitis

Causes, Incidence, and Risk Factors:

The salivary glands are around the mouth. They produce saliva, which moistens food to aid in chewing and swallowing. Saliva contains enzymes that begin the digestion process.

Saliva also aids in mechanical cleansing of the mouth by washing away bacteria and food particles. Saliva keeps the mouth moist and helps to keep dentures or orthodontic appliances (such as retainers) in place.

There are 3 pairs of salivary glands. The 2 largest are the parotid glands, 1 in each cheek over the angle of the jaw in front of the ears. Two submandibular glands are at the back of the mouth on both sides of the jaw. Two sublingual glands are under the floor of the mouth.

All of the salivary glands empty saliva into the mouth through ducts that open at various locations in the mouth. Parotitis (parotiditis) is an inflammation of one or both of the parotid salivary glands.

An infection of the salivary glands is somewhat common. Viral infections such as mumps often affect the salivary glands (mumps most often affects the parotid glands). This form of parotitis is now much more rare in children because of the MMR immunization vaccine.

Bacterial infections usually result from obstruction (such as salivary duct stones) or poor oral hygiene.

Symptoms :

Signs and Tests :

An examination by the health care provider or dentist shows enlarged salivary glands. Pus may drain in the mouth in some cases. The gland may be painful, particularly with bacterial infections. Viral infections such as mumps may cause painless swelling of the glands.

Treatment :

In some cases, no treatment is necessary.

If there is pus or a fever, or if the infection is known or presumed to be bacterial, antibiotics may be prescribed. Antibiotics are not effective against viral infections.

Good oral hygiene, with thorough tooth brushing and flossing at least twice per day, may aid healing and help prevent an infection from spreading. If you are a smoker, stop smoking as it helps in recovery.

Warm salt water rinses (1/2 teaspoon of salt in one cup of water) may be soothing and keep the mouth moist.

Drink lots of water and use sugar-free lemon drops to increase the flow of saliva and reduce swelling.

Expectations (prognosis) :

Most salivary gland infections resolve spontaneously or are cured with treatment. Complications are not common, but they may occur.

Complications :

Calling your health care provider :

Call your health care provider if symptoms of salivary gland infections are present.

Call your health care provider if a salivary gland infection has been diagnosed and symptoms worsen, particularly if fever increases, or there is breathing or swallowing difficulty (these may be emergency symptoms).

Prevention :

In many cases, salivary gland infections cannot be prevented. Good oral hygiene may prevent some cases of bacterial infection.

There are several pairs of salivary glands in different locations: a major pair in front of the ears (parotid glands); two major pair on the floor of the mouth (sublingual and submaxillary glands); and several minor pairs within the lips, cheeks, and tongue.

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