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Remember the sensation similar to that of a warm liquid flooding your tongue when you smell a deliciously baked chocolate cake? Or a freshly baked brown bread early in the morning? That is your saliva. The salivary glands present in the inner linings of the lips, cheeks and the mouth produce saliva. Saliva protects one from tooth decay, keeps the mouth moist and helps in the digestive process. Any disease that affects the saliva gland comes under the domain of ‘salivary gland disorders’.
There are three salivary glands in humans known as the Submandibular, Parotid and the Sublingual gland. The most common disorder that affects salivary glands is that of ‘blocked salivary glands’. Sialothiasis is a disorder wherein, calcium stones are formed in the salivary glands, which obstruct these glands. Obstruction of the salivary glands leads to an infection called sialadenitis, caused by strep or staph bacteria.
Sjogren’s syndrome is another condition which affects the salivary glands. In this condition, the antibodies in the body target the cells that produce saliva. This occurs mostly in women who suffer from autoimmune disorders. Viral infections are also common; flu virus and mumps are a few examples.
The symptoms of salivary gland disorders are problem specific; for Sialolithiasis, you will feel a painful lump below the tongue, which tends to aggravate when you eat. In case of Sialadenitis, there will be an odorous pus-filled discharge along with a lump beneath the chin. For viral infections, the symptoms will include muscle pain, swelling and fever. Symptoms of Sjogren’s syndrome are dry eyes and mouth, joint pain, fatigue and tooth decay.
Like the symptoms, the treatments for salivary gland disorders are also problem specific. For salivary gland tumors, surgery is required. If it is a malignant tumor, then radiation therapy will be prescribed which may cause dry mouth syndrome (Xerostomia). For bacterial and viral infections, anti-bacterial and anti-viral medications are required for treatment, respectively. It is also important that you take good care of your oral health for an even more effective treatment. Brushing and flossing your teeth on a regular basis will help keep salivary gland disorders at bay. If you wish to discuss about any specific problem, you can consult an ENT-specialist.