Salivary gland disorders

Swelling or pain in the saliva glands around the mouth.

Causes, incidence, and risk factors

The salivary glands are around the mouth. They produce saliva (spit), which moistens food to aid chewing and swallowing. Saliva contains enzymes that begin the digestion process. Saliva also cleans 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 three pairs of salivary glands:

  • The two largest are the parotid glands, one in each cheek 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.

The salivary glands may become inflamed (irritated) because of infection, tumors, or stones.

Related topics:


  • Swelling of the face or neck  
  • Swelling in front of the ears  
  • Pain in the face or mouth pain  
  • Abnormal tastes, foul tastes  
  • Decreased ability to open the mouth  
  • Discomfort when opening the mouth  
  • Dry mouth

Signs and tests
Tests vary depending on the suspected disorder.

The treatment varies depending on the specific disorder.

Expectations (prognosis)
Most salivary gland disorders respond well to treatment. See the specific disorders.

See the specific disorders.

Calling your health care provider
ALWAYS call your health care provider if symptoms indicate that one of the salivary gland disorders may be present.

Most of the problems with salivary glands are not preventable.

Johns Hopkins patient information

Last revised: December 8, 2012
by Brenda A. Kuper, M.D.

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