Salivary glands produce saliva and empty it into a person’s mouth. Saliva helps make food moist, making it easier for people to chew, swallow, and digest. Saliva also helps keep the mouth clean.
A person has three main pairs of large salivary glands and hundreds of smaller salivary glands.
This article discusses the different types of salivary glands and what they do. It also lists a number of conditions that affect the salivary glands and discusses when someone should consider contacting a doctor.
A note about sex and gender
Sex and gender exist on spectrums. This article will use the terms “male,” “female,” or both to refer to sex assigned at birth. Click here to learn more.
People typically have
Below are the
- Parotid glands: These are the largest of the salivary glands. They are just in front of and below the ears. A person has one parotid gland on each side of their face.
- Submandibular glands: These are the second-largest salivary glands. They are below a person’s jaw.
- Sublingual glands: This gland is below the tongue. Instead of having one main duct, these glands contain a series of short ducts. They project saliva directly onto the floor of a person’s mouth.
The major salivary glands produce
A person has about 600–1,000 minor salivary glands. They are in almost every part of the mouth, but most commonly in the:
- lining of the cheeks
The salivary glands
Saliva plays a role in helping a person chew and swallow food by making it moist. It also lubricates the surfaces within the mouth, which can help facilitate speech.
Saliva also contains the enzyme lipase. This enzyme
- lysozymes, which are a type of enzyme
- hydrogen peroxide
- lactoferrin, which is a type of protein
These compounds kill germs and help keep the mouth clean. Disruptions in saliva secretion can increase a person’s risk of developing certain conditions, such as:
Below are five examples of conditions that can affect the salivary glands.
Salivary gland stones
According to the United Kingdom’s National Health Service, they are not typically serious, and a person may be able to remove them on their own by:
- drinking plenty of water
- gently massaging around the salivary gland stone
- sucking on a lemon or lemon drops
Most salivary gland stones form below the tongue. In some cases, a person may be able to see them.
Symptoms of salivary gland stones include:
- swelling in the mouth, face, or under the jaw
- a dull pain in the mouth that comes and goes
- an infection around the stone
If a person experiences intense pain when eating, this may mean that the stone is completely blocking a salivary gland.
Salivary gland infections
Symptoms of a salivary gland infection
If a person has an infection of the lymph nodes due to a cold or sore throat, it can cause them to develop a secondary infection of the salivary glands. This may happen as the saliva becomes thick and stuck behind the gland.
Salivary gland cancer
If a person has salivary gland cancer, they may not experience any symptoms. A healthcare professional may discover this type of cancer during a regular dental exam or a physical exam.
However, some possible symptoms of salivary gland cancer include:
- a lump that may be painless in the:
- inside the mouth
- difficulty swallowing
- fluid draining from the ear
- difficulty opening the mouth wide
- pain in the face that does not go away
- numbness or weakness in the face
Benign (noncancerous) masses can also form in the salivary glands.
A person should speak with a doctor if they discover any lumps in their mouth, face, head, or neck.
Other symptoms of mumps include:
Sjögren’s syndrome is a chronic autoimmune disorder
Common symptoms of Sjögren’s syndrome include:
It can also damage the:
- dry mouth
- bad taste in the mouth
- difficulty opening the mouth
- swelling in the face or neck
- swelling under the tongue
- numbness or weakness of the face
- pain in the face of mouth
- a lump in the:
- fluid that drains from the ear
If a person experiences any of these symptoms, they should consider speaking with a doctor who can help identify any underlying causes.
The salivary glands produce saliva and secrete it into the mouth. Saliva helps a person chew and swallow their food. It also lubricates surfaces in the mouth to help facilitate speech.
Saliva contains enzymes that help a person digest certain substances, such as starches and fats, in their food. It can also help protect the body against infection.
There are three pairs of major salivary glands and hundreds of minor salivary glands. The main salivary glands are the parotid glands, the submandibular glands, and the sublingual glands.
Conditions that affect the salivary glands include salivary gland stones, infections, cancer, mumps, and Sjögren’s syndrome. People should contact a healthcare professional if they think they are experiencing any problems with their salivary glands.