What Is It?
The salivary glands contain a network of ducts through which saliva flows into the mouth. If the flow of saliva is reduced or stopped for some reason, it can cause a bacterial infection called sialadenitis (sigh-a-lah-den-EYE-tis). Sialadenitis is most common in the parotid gland (in front of your ear) and the submandibular gland (under your chin) and is usually caused by Staphylococcus aureus bacteria.
Saliva flow can be reduced in people debilitated by illness, people recovering from surgery or in certain elderly people. People undergoing treatment for cancer also are susceptible to sialadenitis. Development of an obstructive stone (sialolith) or a kink in the duct can also diminish saliva flow. Diseases that reduce salivary flow (such as Sjögren's syndrome) also may lead to sialadenitis.
Sialadenitis may cause a tender, painful lump in your cheek or under your chin. Pus may drain through the gland into your mouth. If the infection spreads, you may experience fever, chills and malaise (a general sick feeling).
Your dentist will feel the affected gland and see if it is swollen and if it discharges pus. The discharge may be tested to see what types of bacteria it contains. He or she also may do other tests that will show images of your salivary glands.
Sialadenitis usually goes away within one week if treated. Low-grade sialadenitis can become chronic (long-lasting), continuing for weeks to months and getting worse from time to time.
Always drink plenty of fluid to keep yourself hydrated. This is especially important following surgery, during illness or in elderly people.
The first step in treating sialadenitis is to make sure you are hydrated. You might need to receive fluids intravenously (into a vein). Next, you will be given antibiotics to destroy the bacteria.
Once fluid balance has been restored, your dentist may recommend sugarless sour candies or other substances that stimulate your body to produce more saliva.
If the infection is not improving, you may need surgery to open and drain the gland.
When To Call a Professional
If you notice a red, tender lump in front of your ear or under your chin, call your dentist, particularly if you are in a high-risk group for sialadenitis.
With prompt diagnosis and appropriate and aggressive medical or surgical therapy, the outlook is very good.
Reviewed by the faculty of Columbia University College of Dental Medicine