A Primer on Salivary Glands


Though small in comparison to other parts of the body, the mouth is a busy place.  It is the device that helps us to express ourselves through speech and it reflects our satisfaction with a smile.   Inside, there’s just as much going on – it’s where we put our food so it can be broken down with our teeth and saliva.


Did you ever wonder about saliva? What it is, where it’s made and how does it get into the mouth?


There are 2 basic kinds of saliva: mucus, which is a slippery fluid, and serous, which is more transparent yellowish fluid.


The fluid is made in salivary glands. There are three basic ones:

PAROTID GLAND: this is the gland in your cheeks, one on each side. There is a pad inside your cheek next to your upper first molars where the fluid exits through a duct, known as the parotid duct, or Stenson’s duct. The pad covering the duct can actually get pretty big.

SUBMANDIBULAR GLAND: this gland is under the jaw and a couple of inches to the side of the Adam’s apple. It exits through the submandibular, or Wharton’s duct at the base of the tongue. Although smaller than the parotid gland, almost ¾ of the saliva produced comes from here.

SUBLINGUAL GLAND: this one is under the tongue. There are several areas where it comes out rather than from one major duct. It account for only 1/20 of the saliva.

There are nearly 1000 minor salivary glands located in the mucosa located in the cheeks, roof of the mouth and back of the roof of the mouth (soft palate). It’s amazing that there can be that many of them in such a small area!

There is another gland known as Von Ebner’s gland which is located at the base of the tongue all the way towards the back. Those give off a serous fluid that help with taste.

Those are the very basics on salivary glands. Children will become aware of these glands if they contract mumps. This is virus that attacks mainly the salivary glands and causes great swelling and discomfort. A vaccine is available for that as part of a vaccine the inoculates the patient against several childhood diseases.