The salivary glands are located in front of the ears, under the chin in the floor of the mouth and throughout the palate, mouth and pharynx. They produce saliva. Saliva moistens food and helps with chewing and swallowing.
Abnormalities of the salivary glands in children include:
- Salivary gland masses
- Infection and swelling in the salivary glands
- Sialorrhea (excessive drooling)
Salivary gland masses—or tumors—are rare, especially in children. The most notable symptom of salivary gland masses is firm, usually painless swelling in the salivary gland. The size of the swollen area gradually increases over time. Children with salivary gland masses may also have difficulty moving one side of the face.
Salivary gland infections are common and often lead to swollen glands. Causes for infection and swelling in the salivary glands include:
- A blockage from salivary duct stones
- Poor oral hygiene
- Abdominal surgery
- Chronic illness
Symptoms of infection and swelling in the salivary glands include:
- Abnormal or foul taste in the mouth
- Decreased ability to open the mouth
- Dry mouth
- Pain in the mouth or face, especially while eating
- Swelling of the face, particularly in front of the ears, below the jaw or on the floor of the mouth
Excessive drooling is a condition in which a child is not swallowing the saliva that the salivary glands produce, so the saliva runs out of the child’s mouth. Children can usually control their drooling by the time they reach 4 years of age. Sialorrhea refers to drooling in children over 4 years of age. This condition is common in children with cerebral palsy and other neurodegenerative conditions. The condition is not caused by the body producing too much saliva but, rather, by the child’s inability to properly swallow the saliva. The primary symptom of sialorrhea is excessive drooling out the side of the mouth, which is more common in cold weather.
Diagnosis of Salivary Gland Conditions
Doctors at Riley at IU Health may recommend one or more of the following tests to diagnose a salivary gland mass:
- Physical exam. Your child’s doctor will check for a larger than normal salivary gland by physical exam.
- X-ray. Your child’s doctor may check the salivary gland for tumors using X-ray imaging.
- Imaging. Your child’s doctor may use the following imaging tests to confirm if there is a growth and see if the mass has spread to lymph nodes in the neck:
- Biopsy. Your child’s doctor may remove a small sample of the salivary gland mass for further analysis in the lab.
If the doctor suspects infection in the salivary gland, a physical exam will be conducted to check for enlarged glands. If the doctor suspects your child may have an abscess (pocket of pus that accumulates under the skin), a CT scan, a MRI scan or an ultrasound may be ordered.
In order to diagnose sialorrhea, your child’s doctor must first rule out any serious condition that could be causing the excessive drooling, such as cerebral palsy, or other disorders of the sensation of or muscle control of the mouth, lips, tongue and pharynx. Then, your child will likely be assessed by various experts, including an otolaryngologist (ear, nose and throat specialist), speech and language therapist, physiotherapist, orthodontist and orthotist, to measure:
- Your child’s level of awareness
- Your child’s head posture and control
- Your child’s dental health
- How well your child’s lips seal
- Whether your child can safely swallow
- Whether your child’s nose is blocked
If your child has a salivary gland mass, his or her doctor will likely need to remove the growth through surgery. Your child may need radiation therapy or chemotherapy if the tumor is malignant (harmful).
If your child has a salivary gland infection, treatment may include hydration, massage, hot packs and sialogogues (something that stimulates the production of saliva such as sucking on sour candies). If there is a fever present and the infection is bacterial, the doctor may prescribe antibiotic medicines to fight the infection. If your child has an abscess related to the infection, surgery or aspiration to drain the abscess may be needed.
If your child has excessive drooling, the doctor may recommend one of the following nonsurgical treatments:
- Reducing nose blockage to help your child better close his or her mouth
- Medicines to reduce saliva production
- Botox injections into the salivary glands
- Orthodontic treatment
If your child has severe sialorrhea and the above treatments do not prove successful, the doctor may recommend surgery to reduce the amount of saliva produced.
Key Points to Remember
Key Points to Remember
- The salivary glands are located around the mouth. They produce saliva, which helps us chew and swallow food.
- Salivary gland masses—or tumors—are rare, especially in children.
- Salivary gland infections are common, and they often lead to swollen glands.
- Sialorrhea—or excessive drooling—is not normal in children over the age of 4 and can be corrected with nonsurgical or surgical treatments.
- Treatment of any salivary gland condition will begin with a comprehensive physical examination.
Support Services & Resources
Support Services & Resources
Check out these trusted websites for more information and support for salivary gland conditions.
Riley at IU Health offers a broad range of supportive services to make life better for families who choose us for their children's care.
This professional organization shares detailed information about conditions of the salivary glands, including infection and masses.
Read more about salivary gland infections from the U.S. National Library of Medicine.