The major salivary glands, three pairs in total, are found in and around your mouth and throat. The major salivary glands are the parotid, submandibular, and sublingual glands. The parotid glands are located in front and beneath the ear. A duct, called Stensen’s duct, drains saliva from the parotid gland into the mouth, at the area of the upper cheeks. The submandibular glands are found on both sides, just under and deep to the jaw, towards the back of the mouth. This gland produces roughly 70% of the saliva in our mouth. The submandibular duct, called Warhtin’s duct, enter the floor of the mouth under the the front of the tongue. Sublingual glands, meanwhile, reside beneath the tongue, and supply saliva to the floor of the mouth as well. There are many (between 600 to 1,000) tiny glands called minor salivary glands. These glands are 1-2 mm in diameter and coat all the mucousal surfaces or lining of our mouth and throat.
Together, the salivary glands produce saliva, which help moisten our mouth, soften the food we chew, initiate digestion, protect the teeth from decay, and help keep the mouth clean by washing away germs. The flow of saliva is stimulated by the presence of food in the mouth, or even the sight and smell of food.
The parotid glands produce a type of saliva that is “serous” which means it’s more watery and thin. It is has the protein Amylase that helps begin the process of starch digestion. While we are not eating, the parotid glands each contribute to 10% of saliva in the mouth, but when stimulated by eating the saliva each parotid gland produces accounts for 25% of the saliva in the mouth.
There are many different types of cells that make up the small little parts of the gland that produce saliva and secrete it (you can see these different cell types on the diagram). Because of the variety of cell types, there are many different types of tumors and cancers that can develop in the parotid gland. Additionally, because there are several lymph nodes inside the parotid gland, at times skin cancers over the temple, scalp and cheek areas can spread to this area; additionally, lymphomas can occur in these lymph nodes.
The salivary glands are constantly working, and can be affected by many medical conditions, medications, and even not drinking enough water. Infections and inflammation of the gland can cause it to swell up and become painful. Obstruction of the ducts, which can happen because of salivary stones or narrowing of the duct from infection, can cause the saliva to back up into the gland and lead to it to swelling up as well.
If you would like to know more about the salivary glands, schedule a consultation with parotid surgeon Dr. Larian today by calling (888) 687-6118.
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