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Dental and Oral Health Center

A possible swollen salivary gland

02/13/2009

Question:

My sister stayed home from work today due to thinking that she may have the flu. She already have a chronic illness called Lupus which its been attacking her joints but this wasn`t the case.She kept complaining of severe headaches which we all thought maybe it was a sinus infection and severe cold. But suddenly her face on the right side started to swell a bit which the family still thought it was her sinuses. A few hours later my sister face was severely swollen.Her husband took her to see her doctor which they came back stating that its a possible swollen salivary gland which she now have to see her dentist. This was very alarming to see her like that. She really look like she had a big huge tumor in the side of her face within hours. Can a salivary gland do this?

Answer:

If a salivary duct of a salivary gland becomes blocked, it can cause swelling very rapidly. The salivary gland in the cheek is the parotid salivary gland. It is a large salivary gland. It is constantly providing saliva to the oral cavity. When the duct is blocked the gland does not know that it should not produce more saliva. Thus the gland swells with the increasing amount of saliva.

As the pressure increases in the duct, it often dislodges the block and the swelling goes down. If it only partially unblocks the duct, swelling may reoccur when saliva production is stimulated such as during eating.

It is possible that the duct is being blocked by a salivary stone. It is possible that this may need to be surgically removed by the dentist or an oral surgeon. Take her to the dentist to receive a proper diagnosis. If this is what your sister has, there is no long-term damage or danger.

It looks much worse than it really is.

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Response by:

D Stanley Sharples, DDS
Clinical Assistant Professor of Primary Care Dentistry
College of Dentistry
The Ohio State University