The parotid gland is one of several salivary glands in the human body. This gland is responsible for the bulk of salivary production within the body. Saliva, also known as spit, is a mixture of mucus, digestive enzymes and water. This thick, slightly slimy mixture coats the inside of the mouth, the tongue, the throat and the entire length of the oesophagus.
Humans can produce up to a litre of saliva daily, and saliva flows down the throat and into the stomach where it is digested along with food and liquids. Saliva is an important element in healthy digestion and the parotid gland is one of the most crucial glands in the human body.
Parotid Gland: Purpose, Location and Common Problems
What Does it Look Like and Where is it Located?
The parotid gland is shaped like a small wedge, and it has four distinct surfaces. There are actually two parotid glands in the human body, and each gland is located on either side of the mandibular ramus, the large vertical portion of the jaw.
Common Issues of the Parotid Gland
While the parotid gland usually functions without a person ever being aware of its existence, there are issues that can affect normal function in this gland and cause serious health issues. Salivary gland stones are one of the most common ailments that affect the parotid gland. Gland stones are calcium deposits that accumulate within the gland itself or within the ducts that connect the gland to the mouth. These deposits block the flow of saliva and cause the gland to swell. Cancers, cysts and infections can also affect the healthy function of the parotid gland.
Identification and Treatment of Problems
A problem with the parotid glands is usually first detected through pain or tenderness at the back of the jaw. This pain may be intermittent at first, but if the problem is not recognised and treated, it will gradually accelerate and become quite severe. Other symptoms include chronic dry mouth, fever and headaches. If the issue is caused by stones blocking the ductwork, the stones can be removed through salivary gland massage, incision surgery or surgery that utilises a light scope. If the issue is caused by an infection, antibiotics may help to fight off the infection and ice packs can be used to reduce the swelling of the parotid gland.
If you have problems with your salivary glands or parotids make an appointment to see our ear nose and throat specialist.