Gland To Gland Combat: How Your Dentist Can Help You Fight Salivary Gland Infections

Everyone knows that keeping your teeth, gums and tongue in good shape is vital to long-term dental health, but the smaller structures and organs in our mouths are often overlooked. The salivary glands that produce the saliva so vital to dental health are small and inobtrusive, and if they are functioning normally, you may never notice them. However, an infected salivary gland is extremely noticeable, and if you are suffering for a salivary gland infection, you should visit your dentist immediately for treatment.

What causes salivary gland infections?

Salivary glands can become infected by either bacterial or viral pathogens, which infiltrate the salivary gland through the duct that releases saliva into the mouth. Since saliva is naturally anti-bacterial, infection of otherwise healthy salivary glands is rare -- however, if your salivary glands are not as active as they should be, either through physical blockage or decreased saliva production, they can rapidly become infected. You are also more at risk of contracting a salivary gland infection if you have a compromised immune system due to illness or medication..

What are the symptoms of an infected salivary gland?

People suffering from an infected salivary gland usually experience some or all of the following symptoms:

  • Inflammation of the affected gland(s), which can spread and cause the cheeks, lips and neck to swell.
  • Pain and stiffness, which may prevent you from chewing or opening your mouth correctly.
  • Dry mouth (xerostomia), which can become painful.
  • Drainage of pus into the mouth.
  • A constant, unpleasant taste in the mouth.
  • Redness and swelling of the lower jaw
  • Fever, fatigue, and other general signs of infection

How can my dentist treat an infected salivary gland?

When you visit the dentist about your infected gland, the first thing they will do is undertake a close inspection of the gland to look for possible causes of infection, such as duct blockages or growths. Ultrasound and X-ray scanners may be used to enhance accuracy, and in some cases, your dentist will need to take a small tissue biopsy for testing. You should always remember to tell your dentist about any medications you are taking -- some medications, such as antihistamines, often reduce saliva production as a temporary side effect.

Once it has been confirmed that the gland is infected, your dentist can offer a number of treatments:

  • Antibiotics -- If your infection has a bacterial cause, antibiotics can clear up infection quickly and efficiently. These may be supplied as conventional tablets or as topical gels. 
  • Aspiration -- If the salivary gland is badly infected and has developed an abscess, the pus can be drained away using a syringe to reduce swelling.
  • Pain relief -- Topical pain relievers can be applied to the infected gland to provide pain relief, but these should not be used if the gland is bleeding or ulcerated. 
  • Blockage removal -- If your dentist discovers a blockage causing the infection, they may be able to remove it there and then using small suction tools. However, very large or stubborn blockages may require surgical intervention -- surgery to unblock salivary glands is minimally invasive, and in many cases can be performed in the dentist's chair (providing your dentist has the necessary qualifications).
  • Gland removal -- If your salivary glands is suffering from repeated infections, you can opt to have it removed. This does not noticeably inhibit saliva production, and your dentist can refer you to an oral surgeon for treatment.