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What is a salivary gland?

There are 3 major (large) salivary glands on each side of the head and neck. These are called parotid, submandibular and sub-lingual glands. The parotid gland is the largest salivary gland and is located on the side of the jaw bone immediately in front of the ear. The submandibular gland lies under the jaw bone, and the sub-lingual gland is located under the tongue. In addition, to these major salivary glands, there are hundreds of minor salivary glands in the mouth (oral cavity) and throat (pharynx). These glands produce saliva. The major salivary glands excrete saliva via ducts (tubes) into the oral cavity.


What lumps arise in salivary glands and how are they treated?

A lump in a salivary gland may represent benign or malignant pathology. Urgent assessment by a specialist head and neck surgeon is required – see ‘neck lumps’ for further information. Frequently the recommended treatment for a salivary gland lump is surgical removal. This involves a facelift-type incision for parotid surgery and an incision in a skin crease under the jawline for submandibular surgery. These incisions heal very well and rarely cause a cosmetic issue.


What causes pain in salivary glands?

This is generally caused by stones obstructing drainage of saliva in the ducts of the major salivary glands (most commonly submandibular gland). This problem typically causes pain and swelling under the jaw bone at meals times. This is easily diagnosed by clinical assessment and ultrasound or CT scanning. This treated either by extraction of the stone or surgical removal of the offending salivary gland.

 

Several other inflammatory conditions can also cause pain in salivary glands.

 

Pain in a salivary gland associated with a lump should be assessed urgently by a specialist head and neck surgeon to identify cancer early.


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