Salivary gland infection: causes and treatments

A salivary gland infection occurs when bacteria or viruses affect the structure of the glands. These organs are responsible for producing saliva and secreting it into the mouth through the ducts.

There are three pairs of these main glands, in addition to the hundreds of small glands distributed throughout the oral mucosa:

  • The parotids on both sides of the face, below and in front of the ears.
  • The submaxillae, which are on each side below the jaw.
  • The sublinguals that are under the tongue, in front of the mouth.

Saliva helps keep the mouth clean, lubricated and healthy, as well as being necessary for digestion by moistening, decomposing and facilitating the swallowing of food. A salivary gland infection can alter salivary flow. Find out here what are its causes, symptoms and what to do if this happens.

Main symptoms

A person with a salivary gland infection may experience the following symptoms:

  • Dry mouth.
  • Pain in the mouth or face.
  • Unpleasant or weird taste on a constant basis.
  • Discomfort or pain when opening the mouth, chewing and swallowing.
  • Presence of pus.
  • Swelling and redness of the face, neck, under and in front of the ears, in the lower part of the mouth or under the jaw.
  • Fever, sweat, and chills.

These symptoms usually last about a week, although a small swelling may persist for a longer time. They will depend on the location and severity of the infection.

Timely consultation with a doctor will allow an accurate diagnosis, since these symptoms are similar to those of other pathologies and a professional evaluation is necessary to confirm the condition.

The salivary glands have ducts that discharge their contents into the mouth, which can become blocked.

It may interest you: 5 home remedies to relieve dry mouth

Causes of salivary gland infection

As we already mentioned, a salivary gland infection or sialadenitis is due to the presence of bacteria or viruses. This colonization of microorganisms is more common when there is a blockage in the outlet duct of saliva and this accumulates in the body of the gland, making it more susceptible to the invasion of germs.

Of the salivary gland infections caused by viruses, mumps is the most common, with the highest incidence in children. Although with the use of the triple viral vaccine its frequency is decreasing. Other viruses, such as Epstein Barr (EBV), coxsackie virus, cytomegalovirus (CMV), and human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) can also cause inflammation of the salivary glands.

Bacterial origin is more frequent, especially in adults. The bacteria responsible for the infection are usually those present in the normal flora of the mouth and also some staphylococci. In general, they are usually unilateral and fever and pain accompany the inflammation.

Risk factor's

Although the final cause of a salivary gland infection is bacterial or viral attack, there are conditions that increase the chances that these structures will be colonized by germs:

  • Blockage or reduction of salivary flow due to tumors, stones or abscesses in the ducts or in the salivary glands themselves.
  • Reduced salivary flow due to medical conditions: Autoimmune diseases, such as Sjögren's syndrome and sarcoidosis, cause dry mouth. AIDS and diabetes also predispose.
  • Dry mouth associated with the use of medication, as diuretics or antihistamines or by radiation and chemotherapy treatments.
  • Dehydration and malnutrition.
  • Very tortuous ducts that hinder salivary flow. This condition is very common in the submaxillary gland.
  • Poor oral hygiene that increases the proliferation of microorganisms.
  • Anomalies in the salivary glands.
  • Smoking and alcoholism.
  • Bulimia.
  • Be over 65 years of age.
  • Not be vaccinated against mumps.

Diagnosis of salivary gland infection

The diagnosis of a salivary gland infection should be made by a doctor, considering the history, physical examination and, in some cases, also using complementary methods. Enlargement of the area, the presence of pus, and pain in the gland may be indicative of a bacterial infection.

Complementary methods such as ultrasounds, MRIs, and CT scans can look for an underlying cause. Localizing stones, abscesses or tumors in the glands explain the appearance of the infection and allow to program a more complete treatment.

Salivary endoscopy and sialography (injection of a contrast liquid) are specific imaging studies of the salivary glands. These can be useful in diagnosis, especially in cases of obstruction of the ducts.

Further, in some cases the doctor may suggest a biopsy of the salivary gland and its duct to analyze the affected tissue. Also to study the liquid contained in its interior; especially if it is necessary to determine which microorganism is behind it.

Possible complications

Complications from a salivary gland infection are not very common. Lack of treatment can cause pus to build up inside and form a chronic abscess.

As well it may happen that the salivary gland infection spreads to other parts of the body. This is a complication to be resolved urgently, because due to the location there is a risk of affecting the floor of the mouth and generating a cellulite called Ludwig's angina, the one that compromises the breath.

In cases where the infection was caused by the presence of a benign tumor, it leads to an enlargement of the gland and becomes annoying, uncomfortable and unsightly. If, on the other hand, there is a malignant tumor (cancer) associated with the infection, it grows quickly, affects mobility and spreads to other parts of the body.

In infections that occur repeatedly and frequently, the body's inflammatory response can destroy affected glandular tissue. Although complications are not that common, they are a possibility; that is why it is always important to carry out timely treatment.

Read also: Symptoms of a dental infection that spreads to the body

Treatments and care for a salivary gland infection

Treatment of a salivary gland infection will depend on its severity, its location, the associated symptoms and, above all, whether there is an underlying cause responsible for the appearance of the condition.

When the infection is caused by viruses, it usually resolves spontaneously after a few days. In general, progress and symptoms are monitored. In cases where the infection is bacterial, there is pus and fever. The use of antibiotics is necessary. Drainage by aspirating the abscess with a needle may also be helpful.

Those pictures that get complicated require hospitalization, hydration and the placement of intravenous antibiotics. The spread of infection to the deep tissues of the head and neck must be prevented, which is very dangerous.

Surgical treatment is sometimes necessary, especially in infections that occur recurrently, persistently or are associated with the presence of a tumor. Surgery may involve removing part or all of the gland.

When the infection is associated with the presence of stones that obstruct the ducts, these must also be removed surgically. If they are small, a minimally invasive technique called sialoendoscopy; if instead they are bigger, a more bloody surgery is necessary. In both cases, the gland can be preserved.

Some care at home

Home remedies that stimulate salivary flow can help improve symptoms. These are some:

  • Drink plenty of water.
  • Drink 8 to 10 glasses of water with lemon a day.
  • Make mouthwashes with warm water and salt.
  • Suck sour candies without sugar or citrus.
  • Give circular massages to the affected gland.
  • Apply heat and warm compresses to the area for 10 to 15 minutes.
  • Use saliva substitutes.
  • Maintain good oral hygiene.
  • Smokers should avoid tobacco.

In any case, these do not replace the treatment suggested by professionals, who are in charge of indicating the best therapy for each particular condition.

Inflammation of the infected gland can be palpable from the outside.

When to consult a professional?

As we already mentioned, it is important that treatment of salivary gland infections is indicated by a healthcare professional. Therefore, any alteration in salivary flow, the sensation of a dry or bad-tasting mouth, the presence of fever or swelling and redness of the face or neck are already sufficient reasons to consult.

If the symptoms are very severe, interfere with eating, swallowing or breathing, last for more than two weeks, or begin to spread more and more, immediate attention is vital. A timely treatment can avoid serious complications.

Some Tips to Avoid Salivary Gland Infections

Although there is no way to prevent the development of a salivary gland infection, some practices can help reduce the risk of suffering from them. Drinking lots of water and staying hydrated, for example, helps.

Maintaining good oral hygiene, brushing the teeth and using rinses and dental floss, reduces the number of microorganisms in the mouth. Visiting the dentist frequently and performing dental cleanings every 6 months also reduces the levels of bacteria in the oral cavity.

It helps to avoid habits that dry out the mouth, such as alcohol and tobacco, as well as to stimulate saliva production by chewing sugar-free gum. The control and treatment of other chronic diseases is also relevant.

In general, the prognosis for salivary gland infections is usually good. Anyway, as we already mentioned, Seeing a doctor if this condition is suspected is always the best solution.