Dental Issues

Causes for Salivary Glands to Stop Working



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Salivary glands in the mouth and throat produce saliva that begins the process of digestion, protects the teeth, and cleanses and moistens the mouth.  The three major salivary glands are the parotid, sublingual, and submandibular glands.  All of these glands secrete saliva through salivary ducts in different parts of the mouth.  When salivary glands are not working properly, a patient may experience difficulty in opening the mouth, pain in either the face or the mouth, a bad taste in the mouth, swelling in either the neck or face, or dry mouth.  There are several different conditions that may cause the salivary glands to malfunction.

Sialolithiasis

According to the website for Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, sialoliths are tiny stones made of calcium that may form in the salivary glands; causing sialolithiasis.  These stones cause problems when they block the salivary ducts, making the flow of saliva either slow down or stop completely.  This will, in turn, cause the salivary glands to enlarge and an infection may develop as a result.

Sialadenitis

This painful salivary gland infection may be caused by several different types of bacteria.  This condition is most common in newborns and older adults with salivary gland stones.  This infection should be diagnosed and treated promptly as it has the potential to become a serious infection.

Viral Infections

Salivary glands may enlarge due to several different viral infections such as the flu, mumps, echovirus, Coxsackie virus, and cytomegalovirus.

Cysts

A baby may be born with a cyst in the parotid gland or cysts may develop in anyone with certain infections, tumors, stones, or after an injury.

Tumors

Tumors are most often found in the parotid gland, but they may form in the other salivary glands as well.  Some tumors may be cancerous, but the majority of them are benign.  The tumors most commonly observed are pleomorphic adenomas.  These slow growing, benign tumors are typically found in the parotid gland and may be noticed as a painless lump under the earlobe.  Pleomorphic adenomas are found more often in women than men. 

Another common tumor is Warthin's tumor which can be found in the parotid gland.  It may be noticed on both sides of the face and is usually seen in older men. 

Malignant tumors occur rarely, but when they do occur, they may grow quickly or slowly depending on the individual case.  When these cancerous tumors are found, it is usually in an adult that is between fifty and sixty years of age.

Sjögren's syndrome

In this chronic disease white blood cells attack moisture-producing glands like the salivary glands.  Sjögren's syndrome is most often found in middle-aged women or in those suffering from lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, polymyositis, or scleroderma.

Sialadenosis

This condition occurs when a salivary gland, usually the parotid, becomes enlarged without any known reason.  No pain is associated with Sialadenosis.

Chemotherapy and Radiation

Chemotherapy used for the treatment of cancer may temporarily affect salivary gland function.  Radiation of the head or neck may also damage the salivary glands, although this damage is often permanent.

Injury

An injury can also damage a salivary gland, causing it to swell and form a small, bluish lump that is typically small.  This condition will generally heal on its own within a month or so.

Other causes

The American Academy of Otolaryngology notes that there are other conditions that may lead to salivary gland malfunction.  HIV, diabetes, Parkinson’s disease, chronic pain, and depression may all lead to problems with the salivary glands.  According to Merck & Co., Inc., some drugs including antipsychotics, antidepressants, diuretics, antihistamines, sedatives, and methyldopa may also interfere with salivary gland function.

There are many different underlying causes that can be the trigger for a salivary gland to malfunction.  It is very important to discuss with a medical professional any changes in salivary gland function as the condition should be addressed and may need treatment.

 

More about this author: Alanna Rose