Submandibular Gland: Location, Function and Complications

The submandibular gland is one of three types of glands that supply the mouth with saliva. The other two types of salivary glands are called the parotid and the sublingual. Saliva plays an important role in chewing and digesting food and preventing tooth decay, and problems with the salivary glands can have a serious effect on your oral health.

Location of Submandibular Gland

Submandibular glands are a pair of walnut-sized glands located on each side of the face beneath and in front of the lower jaw at the back of the mouth. Saliva travels from the glands in ducts that emerge on the underside of the tongue where it joins the mouth, according to the American Academy of Otolaryngology – Head and Neck Surgery (AAOHNS).

Submandibular Gland Function

The submandibular gland and the other salivary glands are essential for digestion and for maintaining a healthy mouth. Saliva contains enzymes that begin to break down food before it passes to your stomach, and it moistens food so that it slips easily down the esophagus. What's more, saliva contains minerals that reduce the levels of harmful acids in the mouth. Without this protective effect, the acids eat away at tooth enamel and cause cavities.

Even though your saliva does a great job protecting your enamel, it doesn't hurt to further bolster your enamel health! Consider swishing with a mouthwash like Colgate Enamel Health Mouthwash, Alcohol-Free, which strengthens enamel to help prevent cavities, even where brushing may miss.

Complications with the Submandibular Gland

Complications with the include blockage, infection, tumors and enlargement. As the AAOHNS explains, stones can form in the gland that prevent saliva from being released, causing swelling and pain. The signs of a blocked gland usually appear when eating or drinking. When a gland is blocked, bacteria can grow in the retained saliva and cause an infection. Infections can also migrate to submandibular glands from infected lymph nodes located nearby.

Benign and malignant tumors sometimes develop in submandibular glands, appearing as enlarged areas or swellings. Patients experiencing enlargement of their glands should see a physician, especially if the swelling is painful or causes loss of movement. Other causes of enlarged submandibular glands include Sjögren's syndrome, HIV, diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis and alcoholism.

The submandibular glands are hidden away under the lower jaw, and it's easy to take for granted the essential role they play in supplying saliva to the mouth. If you have discomfort in these glands or they're enlarged, or if your mouth feels dry, speak to a dentist. Fixing an issue with a submandibular gland will improve your overall oral health.

This article is intended to promote understanding of and knowledge about general oral health topics. It is not intended to be a substitute for professional advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always seek the advice of your dentist or other qualified healthcare provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition or treatment.

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  • Enamel – this is the outer and hardest part of the tooth that has the most mineralized tissue in the body. It can be damaged by decay if teeth are not cared for properly.

  • Dentin – this is the layer of the tooth under the enamel. If decay makes it through the enamel, it next attacks the dentin — where millions of tiny tubes lead directly to the dental pulp.

  • Pulp – this is the soft tissue found in the center of all teeth, where the nerve tissue and blood vessels are located. If tooth decay reaches the pulp, you usually feel pain and may require a root canal procedure.