Salivary Gland Infection FAQ
Salivary gland infection (sialadenitis) is a very uncomfortable medical condition – but it’s one that doesn’t get a lot of publicity. The first time you might hear about it is when you start searching online for information to explain symptoms like dry mouth or swollen glands in your cheeks. You probably have some questions about how this infection works and what you can do about it. Here are some answers you may find helpful.
Where are my salivary glands?
The major salivary glands are:
- Submandibular (under the edge of your jaw where it meets your neck)
- Sublingual (under the floor of your mouth beneath your tongue)
- Parotid (in front of your ears reaching from your cheekbone to your jaw)
There are also many smaller salivary glands throughout your mouth. However, the submandibular and parotid glands are usually the ones that cause noticeable symptoms when infected.
What does salivary gland infection feel like?
The symptoms of salivary gland infection include dry mouth and palpable swelling of the affected glands. The glands will feel swollen to the touch. They may hurt. This pain can spread into your face, jaw, mouth, teeth and neck. If your glands are filled with pus from a bacterial infection, you could notice a bad taste in your mouth. If your glands are blocked, you may notice the swelling and discomfort getting worse after you eat something sour. That’s because the saliva that is produced can’t flow out into your mouth. Instead, it builds up causing pressure in the gland. With a viral infection or a severe bacterial infection, you may have a fever. You may experience symptoms of dehydration as well.
Is a salivary gland infection contagious?
Viral diseases like mumps and the flu can cause sialadenitis. These viruses are contagious for people who have not been vaccinated. If you have mumps or influenza, you should take precautions to protect others from exposure. Bacteria like strep and staph can also infect the salivary glands and can be passed from person to person. However, these germs are often present in the mouth and throat of healthy people who have no symptoms. They are most likely to cause active infection in people who are already immune-compromised. As a basic hygiene rule, you shouldn’t share toothbrushes, utensils or beverages with others.
Can I prevent salivary gland infection?
The best way to prevent viral infection is to make sure you have been vaccinated against mumps and the flu. There’s no proven way to prevent bacterial infection of the salivary glands. However, it’s a smart idea to practice good oral hygiene, drink plenty of water, stay away from tobacco, and have dry mouth symptoms investigated promptly. Behaviors and medical conditions that impact your overall health make you more prone to all types of infection, including sialadenitis.
What kind of treatment is available for salivary gland infection?
Treatment for both viral and bacterial infection generally focuses on ensuring that you are well hydrated either through drinking water or with IV fluids. Rest and fever reduction medications are the only other treatments for viral salivary gland infections as the disease runs its course. Bacterial infection is readily addressed with antibiotics. Warm compresses, anti-inflammatory drugs, saltwater rinses and glandular massage are often helpful in managing symptoms while you wait for the antibiotics to do their job. You may also want to suck on sour candy to help relieve dry mouth symptoms by stimulating more saliva production.
Could a salivary gland infection be something more serious?
A swollen salivary gland is usually highly treatable and not life threatening. However, inflammation or lumps in the salivary gland are occasionally signs of a more serious condition. This may include:
- A cyst
- A tumor (cancerous or benign)
- Sjögren's syndrome (an autoimmune disorder)
One of the reasons your doctor or dentist will ask lots of questions when you come in with a salivary gland infection is to rule out more serious conditions. There are also tests that can be ordered if your infection and inflammation doesn’t respond to treatment.
Will I need surgery for my infected salivary gland?
Most infections of this kind can be treated non-surgically. Even if you have a salivary stone blocking the duct, it may be possible to remove it without cutting open the gland. Sometimes, the stone can be expressed by squeezing on the duct. Or, it may be pulled out with a thin wire inserted into the duct. In very rare cases, severe infection results in the need for surgery to remove dead and infected tissue.
Can infected salivary glands cause other health problems?
Yes, the dry mouth symptom of sialadenitis leaves your gums and teeth open to damage from bacteria. Saliva is essential for keeping the bacteria in your mouth to a minimum. When you don’t produce enough saliva, you may be at higher risk for gingivitis and tooth decay. Severe cases of salivary gland infection can interfere with breathing and swallowing if the swelling gets too bad. Prompt treatment is the best way to prevent a bacterial infection from getting out of control.