When you hear about someone having a “gland problem,” you might think it has something to do with a hormone issue or swollen glands from having a cold.
However, did you know that a gland is technically any organ which produces and releases substances that perform a function in the body? Yes! From saliva to sweat, glands are at the center of many of our bodily systems.
In order to support good oral health, a working and healthy set salivary gland is essential to help with swallowing, digesting food and protecting your teeth against bacteria. The lack of saliva (sometimes classified as dry mouth, depending on the severity) can lead to serious oral and other health complications.
First, with insufficient saliva production, increased plaque, tooth decay and gum disease can occur. Saliva works to neutralize bacteria by limiting bacterial growth and washing away food particles. Other complications can include mouth sores, yeast infections in the mouth and split, and dry skin around the mouth and lips. Saliva also enhances a person’s ability to taste, swallow and digest food.
There are three major salivary glands around the mouth:
- sublingual (under the tongue, 2) p
- Parotid (overlying the cheek), and
- Submandibular gland (close to the jawline)
There are also several hundred minor salivary glands which are scattered throughout the mouth.
Common salivary gland problems
When there is a problem with the salivary glands, you can experience side effects including swelling, dry mouth or a foul taste in your mouth. Common problems that lead to salivary gland problems include:
- The most common cause of swollen salivary glands are salivary stones, which are buildups of crystallized saliva deposits. When the crystals block the ability for saliva to flow through the ducts, it can back up into the gland. An infection will likely ensue unless the duck is cleared to allow saliva to flow normally.
- Common infections like the flu can also cause inflammation in the salivary gland. In some cases, the swelling will occur before the onset of any other symptoms—even fever. What’s more, the salary glands themselves can become infected. Bacterial infection of the salivary gland, most commonly the parotid gland, can result when the duct into the mouth is blocked. This condition (called Sialadenitis) creates a painful lump in the gland and foul-tasting pus that drains into the mouth.
- Finally, more severe issues such as tumors or cysts can also impact the salivary glands. Not all tumors on the salivary gland are cancerous; however, it is important for any tumor to be examined to protect function of the glad.
Just like with any condition, the treatment of a salivary gland problem will vary depending on the cause and how sever it is.
For issues like blocked ducks, it’s important to get the saliva flowing, meaning that measures such as sucking on sour candy, using warm compresses or manually removal of blockages are employed. If the blockage is severe, surgery is sometimes needed.
For more significant salivary gland issues like cysts or cancer, surgery is usually required to remove the mass. For tumors that regrow frequently—even if they are not cancerous—your medical provider may recommend radiation to stop growth.
And finally, bacterial infections that impact the salivary gland are most frequently treated with antibiotics. It’s important to discuss any course of treatment with your doctor as well as your dentist.