Located in the jaw, mouth, and tongue, salivary glands produce split and keep the mouth moist. The four pairs of salivary glands are what literally creates a mouthwatering experience when thinking of or enjoying favorite foods. This added moisture helps with the digestive process and washes bad bacteria out of the mouth, which minimizes bad breath and may prevent some dental problems. A salivary gland infection may also cause fluid-filled sacs (abscesses) that can make it difficult to chew and swallow to form
What Causes Salivary Gland Infections?
A Staphylococcus (staph) bacterial infection is the most likely source of a salivary gland infection, although viral infections can also affect these glands. Such infections tend to happen more frequently in individuals with chronic dry mouth related to various medications. Salivary gland infections can occur after surgery of if a patient has recurring dehydration. Contributing factors may also include:
- Poor oral hygiene
- Blocked ducts
- Nutritional deficiencies or poor nutrition
- Calcified structures (salivary stones)
Symptoms of a Salivary Gland Infection
Dry mouth is the most common symptom linked to a salivary gland infection. Dry mouth may be coupled with facial or mouth pain, especially when swallowing or chewing, and redness in the upper neck that sometimes extends to other parts of the face, including the jaw and front part of the ears. A persistent infection may make it increasingly difficult to swallow or chew. Patients may also experience:
- Gland swelling
- Bad taste in the mouth (from gland drainage)
- Difficulty with jaw and mouth movements
How is a Salivary Gland Infection Diagnosed?
Most patients will be initially evaluated by their own primary care physician when throat issues or signs of infection become noticeable. If a salivary gland infection is suspected, a patient may be referred to an ear, nose and throat specialist for further evaluation. The diagnostic process typically includes a review of patient’s medical history to determine if there are contributing health issues that may be causing dry mouth and other common symptoms. An ultrasound or CT scan may be performed to allow for a more detailed view of the salivary glands to identify any possible obstructions.
The typical treatment recommendation for a salivary gland infection is antibiotics that will need to be taken for a brief period of time. Surgery is rarely necessary or recommended. If an abscess develops due to the infection, it’s usually drained with the insertion of a thin needle. If infections return on a regular basis, surgery may be suggested to correct structural issues with the salivary glands.
Salivary gland infections cannot always be prevented. However, practicing good oral hygiene may reduce the risk of such infections. For patients who experience frequent dry mouth that sometimes leads to a salivary gland infection, adjustments to medication and making more of an effort to stay hydrated throughout the day may help prevent gland problems. Early signs of an infection should be evaluated to determine the source and rule out other possible and potentially serious throat issues.