Salivary glands are located in the head and neck and are essential for the processes of chewing, swallowing, and maintaining proper oral hygiene. There are six major salivary glands and hundreds of minor salivary glands. The six major salivary glands are the two parotid glands, two submandibular glands, and two sublingual glands. The parotid glands are the largest glands and are located under the skin in front of the ear overlying the jaw bone. The submandibular glands are located underneath the jaw, and the sublingual glands are located underneath the tongue in the mouth. There are hundreds of minor salivary glands located throughout the mouth, palate, cheeks and even the nasal cavity.
Salivary glands are important in production of saliva, which keeps the mouth moist and teeth healthy. Saliva also contains enzymes which help digest food.
The parotid glands are the largest glands and are located under the skin in front of the ear overlying the jaw bone. The facial nerve, which controls actions such as raising the eybrow and smiling passes through the parotid glands.
Saliva from the parotid and submandibular glands passes through ducts, or tube like structures, into the oral cavity. The duct that travels from the parotid gland empties in the cheek next to the upper molar. This is known as Stensen’s duct. The submandibular gland empties on either side of the tongue in the floor of the mouth through Wharton’s duct.
Disorders of the salivary glands may include infections, stones, benign tumors, and cancers.