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Salivary gland disorders

Medically reviewed by Last updated on Mar 15, 2023.

What are Salivary gland disorders?

Harvard Health Publishing

The salivary glands make saliva and release it into the mouth.

There are three pairs of relatively large, major salivary glands:

Salivary gland disorders

In addition to these major glands, 600 to 1,000 very tiny, minor salivary glands are scattered throughout the mouth and throat. They are located under the moist skin that lines the

Some of the most common salivary gland disorders include:

Some stones sit inside the gland without causing any symptoms. In other cases, a stone blocks the gland's duct, either partially or completely. When this happens, the gland typically is painful and swollen, and saliva flow is partially or completely blocked. This can be followed by an infection called sialadenitis.

Without proper treatment, sialadenitis can develop into a severe infection, especially in people who are debilitated or elderly.

Most people with this disease are women who first develop symptoms during middle age. In about half of cases, the illness occurs together with rheumatoid arthritis, systemic lupus erythematosus (lupus), scleroderma or polymyositis.


Symptoms vary, depending on the specific type of salivary gland disorder:

These symptoms are followed by swelling in the parotid glands, usually on both sides of the face. It may difficult to fully open the mouth.


You will describe your symptoms. The doctor will review your

The doctor also may ask whether you

Next, your doctor will examine your head and neck, including the area inside your mouth. The doctor will press gently on areas of your cheeks to feel for swelling of the parotid gland. He or she also will feel under your jaw for enlarged salivary glands. Tell your doctor if there is any tenderness during the exam.

Depending on your symptoms, history and physical findings, the doctor may order one or more of the following tests:

Expected duration

How long a salivary gland problem lasts depends on the specific disorder.


You can lower your risk of viral infections of the salivary glands. To do so, get immunized against mumps and influenza.

There are no specific guidelines to protect against other types of salivary gland disorders. However, it is helpful to


The treatment varies, depending on the disorder:

If these methods do not cure the infection, surgery can drain the gland.

Good oral hygiene is a must. People with Sjogren's have teeth and gum problems because of low saliva secretion.

When to call a professional

Contact your doctor or dentist if you develop a persistent lump or swelling anywhere in your neck, jaw, cheek, tongue or hard palate.

Call your doctor or dentist immediately if the lump


The outlook depends on the disorder:

Additional info

National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research
National Institutes of Health

American Academy of Otolaryngology – Head and Neck Surgery

American Association of Oral & Maxillofacial Surgeons

Sjogren's Syndrome Foundation

National Cancer Institute (NCI)
U.S. National Institutes of Health

American Cancer Society (ACS)

Further information

Always consult your healthcare provider to ensure the information displayed on this page applies to your personal circumstances.